COSTA MESA, Calif.-- Despite leading by seven with just over three minutes to play, the NAIA’s 11th ranked Azusa Pacific fell 53-52 to No. 8 Vanguard on the road Saturday night. The Lions’ Taylor Belmont buried two late free throws to take a one-point advantage with 11.8 seconds left in the game and on the ensuing possession the Cougars failed to get a good look; dropping their record to 9-5, 2-2 in GSAC play.
Playing without the program’s all-time assists leader, Briana Hall, and guard Tianna Jones Azusa Pacific consistently fed center Amber Williams. The senior led all players in points and rebounds, scoring 15 while pulling in 19 off the glass, but shot just 7-of-17 from the field and hit only one of her five free throws.
Vanguard (9-3, 3-1), which finished the game with a 33.9 percent shooting clip, was out rebounded 48-24 in the game but still managed to get the win, due in large part to the 26 turnovers the Cougars’ commit without its all-American point guard.
Getting the start in place of Hall was senior Cherie Hughes, who was making her first career start in her 70th game with the team. Hughes led the team with five assists, but turned the ball over nine times. She also recorded four points and two steals in the game.
Over the final three minutes of the game the Cougars gave up a seven point lead, going scoreless in that span. The Lions’ Belmont cut the lead to four with a 3-pointer before Maree Drennan made it a one-point game with a trey just before the one-minute mark. With the ball and 15 seconds to go Belmont drove the lane, got fouled, and hit two free throws to take Vanguard’s first lead since 12:39 in the first half.
With 11 seconds to play the Cougars dribbled down the court but failed to run its play, forcing Amanda Sims to throw up a prayer in traffic. Sims registered eight points, all in the first half, and three assists in the game.
The Cougars next road test will be a Tuesday tilt at Fresno Pacific.