SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Silver linings are meant for moments like these.
The NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific, hopeful that it could clinch at least a share of its tenth GSAC championship in the past 11 years, indeed did collect a portion of the 2003 GSAC championship, but the Cougars accomplished it backwards after No. 11 Westmont downed the Cougars, 85-75, in Murchison Gym tonight.
Despite the setback, the Cougars clinched a tie for the 2003 GSAC title after The Master’s upset No. 6 Concordia, 79-76, meaning that the Cougars are still in control of their destiny and can win the conference crown outright in their final regular season game vs. Point Loma Nazarene next Monday (March 10).
Certainly, Concordia’s loss proved to be a missed opportunity for the Cougars, but that pales in comparison to the missed shots Azusa Pacific collected in tonight’s loss to Westmont, the Cougars’ fourth in the past 5 meetings with the Warriors.
The GSAC’s top-shooting team in conference play, Azusa Pacific misfired a season-high 39 times tonight, including 13 from the 3-point arc. The ever opportunistic Warriors took advantage of the Cougars’ cross- eyed shooting and drained 54% of its own shots to overcome a 32-30 halftime lead and keep alive its hopes to at least share its first GSAC crown in 11 years. All-GSAC forward Chris Clark, who dropped in a career-high 33 in Westmont’s 84-81 victory at Azusa Pacific in January, led all scorers tonight with 30 points.
Clark hit a pair of 3-pointers with less than 8 minutes left in the game, the first giving the Warriors the lead for good at 61-59 with 7:58 to play, and the second pushed the Warrior lead to 5 at 68-63, forcing the Cougars into a chase mode down the stretch. Westmont kept Azusa Pacific at bay by making 10-of-11 free throws in the final 49 seconds.
Caleb Gervin and Ladrick Simon led Azusa Pacific with 18 points apiece while Ryan Dillon added 14 points, 11 of which came in the first half when Azusa Pacific had to rally from a 10-0 deficit to start the game.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 24-5 overall, 16-3 in the GSAC. Westmont improves to 21-7 overall, 14-4 in the GSAC. The Cougars maintain a game-a-half lead over second-place Concordia and Westmont, both of which play Friday night while the Cougars are off. The GSAC regular season concludes next Monday.