Azusa Pacific 91
California Baptist 81
AZUSA, Calif. –On a night when GSAC Player of the Year Caleb Gervin was off, his fellow All-GSAC backcourt mate Jeff Staniland flat out stepped up and led top-seed Azusa Pacific to a 91-81 win over California Baptist in the opening round of the GSAC Postseason Tournament.
Of course, it was against the Lancers, a team Staniland seems to relish this year as the senior guard poured in a game-high 26 points, including 10 in the final 3 minutes of the first half in which the Cougars used a 14-5 spurt to turn a 36-36 tie into a 50-42 halftime lead to seemingly take control of a physical game.
“Jeff’s one of the more physical players and they (CBU) are so physical that he can handle that,” said Azusa Pacific head Bill Odell. “He’s just a little bit stronger and responds a bit better than others. It starts all over again Saturday. We’ll have to play the same kind of defense and execute on offense.”
The win moves Azusa Pacific to 26-5 and into the GSAC Tournament semifinals Saturday (March 15) at 7:30 p.m. where the Cougars will host Point Loma Nazarene, the same team the Cougars downed, 91-55, just 3 nights ago in both teams’ regular-season finale. Meanwhile, Cal Baptist sees its season come to a close at 17-15.
Combined with a career-high 29 points just 2 weeks ago, Staniland has scored 55 total points in the past 2 Azusa Pacific/California Baptist games. He hit 8-of-10 shots from the floor tonight despite taking a constant beating from the Lancers. Staniland also hit all 8 of his free throws as the Cougars buried 37-of-41 as a team.
“They tried to play so physical and intimidate us, and I take that personally,” said Staniland. “So I tried to take the ball to basket. It got a little fire under me. To me, that style is fun. I love banging against guys and falling to the floor. I’d rather play in a game like this than a finesse game, and tonight was one of those games that I just seem to play better in.”
The Cougars stubbed their toe out of the gate as the Lancers jumped out to an 8-2 lead less than 3 minutes in. However, they regained their composure and caught the Lancers with 6 straight points, the final 2 coming on a Staniland lay-up to tie the game at 8-8 for the first of 10 first-half ties. The final tie came at 36-36 and preceded the Cougar’s first-half run.
Lance Soderberg, who scored a career-high 20 points in the last meeting with the Lancers, finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds and hit 11-of-12 from the free throw line. His dunk put an exclamation point on an 11-2 Cougar run that started with a Staniland trey and turned a 9-point advantage into an 18-point lead (75-57) with 9:40 to go. Four minutes later, the Cougars led by 16 (81-65) when the Lancers turned the tide and used a 14-4 run to regain momentum and climb within 6 with 1:41 to play.
Scott Blake finished with just 6 points in 18 minutes of action, but he put the nail in the Lancers’ coffin with a baseline jumper to put the Cougars back up 8 with exactly 1-minte to play. Staniland then iced the game with 4-of-4 free throws in the final 30 seconds.
“The shot clock was running down, and there was no other option than to shoot,” said Blake. “That was definitely the biggest shot of my career.”
Gervin, who was kept silent for most of the night, finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Ranked among the NAIA’s leaders in field goal percentage for most of the season, Gervin shot just 4-of-12 from the field. The NAIA’s leading 3-point shooter, he hit his lone trey in 6 attempts during the Cougars’ 11-2 second half run. Ladrick Simon chipped in with 12 points.