AZUSA, Calif. – Azusa Pacific put on its blue collar shirt, packed a lunch pail and went to work. And its paycheck for a hard night’s effort – another GSAC championship.
The NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific used a 23-8 sprint midway through the first half to open up a 17-point lead and then coasted on in for a 91-55 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over Point Loma Nazarene. With the victory, the Cougars capture the GSAC title, its tenth in the past 11 years, and clinch the first of the GSAC’s 2 automatic berths into the 2003 NAIA Championship Tournament (March 26 – April 1) in Kansas City, Mo.
GSAC Player of the Year Caleb Gervin was the “foreman” of the Cougar crew, putting on a first-half show that validated his honor. He finished the game with 30 points on 10-for-14 shooting, burying 4-of-5 from the 3-point arc to improve upon his NAIA-leading percentage. Gervin dazzled a crowd of 963 with 20 first-half points that came off a variety of shots. He dropped in 9 during that fateful first-half run.
“Caleb got us off to a great start,” said Cougar Coach Bill Odell. “He played under control and made a number of great plays that gave us momentum.”
Azusa Pacific led 47-27 at the half and continued to push the lead throughout the second half.
Ladrick Simon added 12 points and All-GSAC guard Jeff Staniland chipped in with 10. All 12 Cougars scored for the first time this season.
Playing perhaps its best defense of the year, Azusa Pacific forced Point Loma into 19 turnovers and out-rebounded the Crusaders, 43-33. The Cougars were so dominating at the start of the game that they allowed Point Loma just 1 offensive rebound in the first half. Trenton Berglund led Point Loma Nazarene with 30 points. All-GSAC guard Andrew Lasker was held to just 6 points on 3-for-13 shooting.
“Brett (Michel) really did a good job on Lasker,” said Odell. “He’s so smart out there, and when we had Scott Blake in there as a sub for Brett, he did just as good a job. Both players had their hands in Lasker’s face whenever he tried to shoot.”
Michel finished with 6 points, 4 assists and 3 steals.
“We didn’t want to just come out and win the GSAC, said Michel, “we wanted to make a statement. I was solely focused on shutting down on Lasker. Scoring takes a back seat when you’re playing against such a great offensive player like Lasker.”
Gervin recorded his second 30-point game of the season, both in the past 6 games and pushes his season scoring average to 19.4.
“The sky’s the limit for this team as long as we play together,” said Gervin. “I wasn’t doing anything different tonight. I was just getting good looks and knocking them down.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific closes out the regular season at 25-5 and wins the GSAC crown with a 17-3 mark. Point Loma Nazarene falls to 21-10 overall, 13-7 in the GSAC.