In perhaps its best effort of the season, the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific blitzed No. 20 Westmont, 94-68, using a wide assortment of players, plays and ploys to disassemble a team that had been playing very well in recent weeks. In fact, the 26-point margin of victory is Azusa Pacific’s largest ever over a Westmont squad.
“That’s the kind of performance I wanted and expected from this team all year,” said Cougar coach Bill Odell. “Last week was an eye-opener for us, and we turned it around in practice. We worked hard, and we prepared. It showed at Biola Saturday night, and it showed again tonight against Westmont.”
Tristan King and Demario Butler led the Cougar break and threw down monster dunks. Scott Zea came off the bench to throw in bombs from the arc. And Josh Reisman was perfect. He made all 9 of his shots. When he wasn’t sprinting by his opponent for a lay-up he was draining pull-up rainbow shots.
If that wasn’t enough, the Cougar defense was intense, forcing the Warriors to miss 40 of 65 shots.
“Actually, I thought our defense up there was a little better than tonight,” said Odell, referring to the Cougars’ near identical 92-68 win at Westmont back in December. “Still tonight we did a good job of denying them the easy shots that they can get out of their offense.”
Reisman led all players with a season-high 20 points to go along with 5 assists in 23 minutes of play. King and Zea each tossed in 16 points while Butler was simply quite complete, finishing with 14 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and a blocked shot in 27 minutes of action.
“We saw our spots, saw open people and were having fun out there,” said Zea, who was 6-for-10 from the floor, which included a 3-for-5 effort at the 3-point line. “We were in sync and had good chemistry. That’s the way the game should be played. We play like we did tonight; we’re going to beat everybody.”
Azusa Pacific broke open a tight game with a 14-0 run midway through first half to assume a comfortable 28-13 lead. Westmont failed to score on 11 straight possessions, mishandling the ball 4 times while missing 7 straight shots on the other possessions. Behind the play of Reisman and Zea, who tallied 11 and 10 first-half points, respectively, the Cougars led 44-23 at halftime.
In only his second game back from a severe ankle injury that forced him to miss 5 games, Zea ignited the Cougars’ offensive play in the first half by knocking down perimeter shots. During Zea's absence the past 3 weeks, Azusa Pacific shot just 27% (24-for-88) from 3-point territory. With Zea back the past 2 games, the Cougars made season-high 9 3-point field goals against both Biola and Wesmtont.
“I think Coach Odell knows I can shoot and expects me to make those shots,” said Zea, “and if I start making 3-pointers I’d like to think it brings up everyone on the team.”
“Scott’s ankle is only at 70%,” commented Odell, “but he adds so much to the game. He can stretch the floor which opens up everything else in our offense.”
Westmont, which was paced by Nick Debban’s 19 points and game-high 10 rebounds, was never able to get any closer than 14 points early in the second half. The Cougars, who for the first time in series history have now won 6 straight over Westmont, led by as much as 30 points on a couple of occasions in the second half.
The Cougar victory, combined with San Diego Christian’s loss at home to Concordia, gives Azusa Pacific a 2-game lead over both San Diego Christian and Westmont in the race for the GSAC championship.
“Every game is important from here on out,” said Odell, “and not just for us but for every other team. The conference is bunching up. The Master’s is coming in here Friday wanting and needing to win very badly. We have to stay sharp and give another performance like we did tonight.”
Azusa Pacific improves to 19-3 overall, 10-2 in the GSAC. Westmont falls to 15-7 overall, 8-4 in the GSAC.