SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- While the famous saying 'familiarity breeds contempt' may be true in some cases, Azusa Pacific made a very strong argument to the contrary.
Led by a strong performance from seniors Lindsey West and Jaclyn Rice, the NAIA’s No. 17-ranked Cougars upset No. 7-ranked The Master’s, 86-74, Tuesday night at Bross Gymnasium.
It was the third consecutive game that Azusa Pacific had played on the Mustangs’ home floor after competing there in the GSAC Challenge this past week. The Cougars (10-3, 2-1) won all 3 games and extended their winning streak to 7.
“It definitely was a plus that we got to play 2 games in here before tonight,” said head coach Danelle Liles. “The girls played great. I don’t know if we got into a real good rhythm tonight but I thought that we played well.”
West had an outstanding game scoring 23 points – which moved her past Catherine Solorio into third place on the Cougars’ all-time point list with 1,526 – 11 rebounds, 7 blocks, 3 steals and 2 assists.
“We spread out there defense and our wings were running them. I was getting more opportunities just because our team was doing well,” said West.
Meanwhile, Rice had 19 points and 5 rebounds in one of her finest games of the season. She knocked down 5-of-9 shots from beyond the 3-point arc and also tacked on 3 assists and a pair of steals for good measure.
“Whenever I have a post on me they usually don’t like to come out and guard me so I’m going to shoot it,” Rice said. “I have to give credit to my teammates because they were trying to get me the ball.”
After beating Rocky Mountain and Lubbock Christian last week, the Cougars at last got their crack at the home tenant. They had lost 3 straight and 4 of their past 5 games in Santa Clarita against the Mustangs (8-3, 0-2) but from the game’s opening tip there was a different feel to this one.
Neither team led by more than 4 points in a closely played first half until the Cougars used an 11-2 run to turn a 20-20 tie into a 9 point advantage with 4:40 remaining. However, Angela Gimeno responded with a 3-pointer and Courtney Jackson followed with a put back basket to cut the Cougars lead to 31-27.
Rice ended the run with a triple to push the lead back to 34-27 and hit another 3-pointer several minutes later to further extend the Cougars’ advantage with 1:36 left in the first half.
It was evidence that regardless of whatever charge the Mustangs could mount they would be fighting an uphill battle against a Cougar team that was primed to hit big shots and make plays in order to keep their lead.
The Cougars came out of the locker room looking to end their 3 game losing streak against The Master’s. In the opening minutes of the second half, Rice made 2 baskets, including a trey, during a 7-2 spurt that gave them a 49-36 cushion.
When a pair of Jackson free throws pulled the Mustangs to within 51-46, Ashley Oakes countered with back-to-back 3-pointers to quickly reestablish the Cougars’ lead and they did not look back.
Sarah Leathers and Oakes scored 11 points apiece. Leathers also totaled 8 assists.
The 12 point margin of victory is the largest for a Cougar team at Bross Gymnasium since 2000 when Azusa Pacific won 69-54.
“This win is huge for us because sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit and this will help our confidence to know that we can compete with the top level teams in the NAIA,” added Rice.
Azusa Pacific returns home to the Felix Event Center on Thursday, Jan. 5, to host Hope International at 5:30 p.m.