The Cougars scored the game’s first 24 points, holding Fresno Pacific without a field goal for nearly 11 minutes, and cruised on in for a 90-65 Golden State Athletic Conference victory over the Sunbirds. The convincing win not only erases the memory of Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss at San Diego Christian but it also clinches at least a share of the Cougars’ fourth straight GSAC championship and their 13th in the past 14 years.
Five different Cougars scored in double figures. Demario Butler scored 16, and Josh Reisman bounced back from the SDCC contest with an all-around performance tonight of 13 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and even a blocked shot from the 6-foot-1 senior guard.
“We know that for us it’s all about our effort,” said junior center Brice Prather who tallied 12 points and 7 rebounds in 24 minutes of play. “We proved in the first half that if we play with heart and intensity then we play championship-caliber basketball.”
The Cougars weren’t necessarily on fire to start the game, making 8 of their first 19 shots. Yet half of their baskets were from beyond the arc, spreading Fresno Pacific’s defense in the process and complicating their efforts to slow the Cougar onslaught. At the other end of play, the Sunbirds had no answer, missing their first 10 shots and committing 4 turnovers in the process. Fresno Pacific didn’t score until Josh Urbiztondo made 2 free throws at 10:31 of the half, and the Sunbirds didn’t make a field goal until Moustafa El Zanaty rimmed a short jumper in the key with 9:10 remaining in the half. By that time Azusa Pacific was up 29-6 and was long gone out of the Sunbirds’ sight.
“Saturday night is in the past, and we know we can’t change that,” said Prather referring to the Cougars’ 1-point loss at San Diego Christian when they had the game and the GSAC championship wrapped up before losing all of it at the buzzer. “I think we proved that we can bounce back. How we played in the first half is the best we’ve played since way back when.”
Azusa Pacific led 54-16 at halftime and out-rebounded the Sunbirds, who were 4-for-22 shooting in the first half, by a whopping 26-8 margin. The Cougars out-scored Fresno Pacific 18-2 on second-chance points and 20-0 on points off turnovers.
Though they cruised to the victory, the Cougars appeared to get a little too comfortable in the second half and took their hands off the steering wheel, so to speak. Azusa Pacific got sloppy with 12 turnovers and was just 3-for-10 from the 3-point arc. The Sunbirds out-scored the Cougars, 49-36 in the second frame, and after trailing by as much as 40 points at 61-21 following a Prather dunk 2 minutes into the half, Fresno Pacific rallied all the way back to within 17 at 82-65 with 2 minutes to play.
“We got a little too comfortable with the lead and stopped attacking the basket and playing defense,” said Prather.
Scott Zea added 12 points, pushing the Cougars’ record to 15-0 when he scores in double figures (4-3 when he doesn’t). Tristan King chipped in with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
The victory is Azusa Pacific’s 30th in a row over Fresno Pacific, the longest winning streak in program history over one opponent. The Cougars, who haven’t lost to FPU since 1992, improve to 24-5 overall, and 15-4 in the GSAC, assuming a game-and-a-half lead over idle San Diego Christian. The Cougars close out the regular season at Vanguard, Feb. 27. San Diego Christian visits Fresno Pacific Saturday and hosts The Master’s, Feb. 27.
Fresno Pacific, which was paced by Rudy Lopez’s 16 points (14 in the second half), is now 13-13 on the season and 6-12 in the GSAC.