AZUSA, Calif. -- On a night when Azusa Pacific outrebounded Vanguard by 11 and got several key Lions in serious foul trouble it seemed the Cougars might be poised for an upset over the nation’s top-ranked team.
However, perhaps Azusa Pacific’s biggest strength, it’s shooting, did not come through when it was needed.
The end result was an 88-76 win for the NAIA’s No. 1-ranked Vanguard (17-0, 10-0) over No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific (15-5, 7-3) as the Lions continued to roll through GSAC play unaffected it seems by the large bulls-eye on their back created by their undefeated record.
The Cougars wanted to control the tempo and force the Lions to use their depth. Unfortunately, for Azusa Pacific, Vanguard had other ideas. With an impressive opening sequence from the field, the Lions made 6 of their first 8 shots of the contest in racing out to a 13-2 lead.
The game then became more physical as the Lions went to center Rachel Besse in their half court sets. Besse, the GSAC’s leader in field goal percentage, went to work making 6-of-8 first half shots as she scored 14 points as the Lions kept the Cougars at arm’s distance.
Vanguard’s All-American Kelly Schmidt who had played significant minutes with 2 fouls picked up her third with 6:34 remaining in the period forcing her to the bench and the Cougars took advantage.
A 10-4 sliced into the lead and pulled the Cougars to within 31-25. Then the game began to get physical. On a drive to the basket Lion guard Jessica Richter was fouled hard and was on the floor for several minutes while she regrouped.
Several minutes later, Crystal Jeanpierre was hit in the backcourt by Melissa Cook and was forced out of the game. Alyssa Ferdaszewski came in to make both free throws with 2:48 left in the half to keep the Cougars within striking distance, 37-30.
Then Azusa Pacific went ice cold from the floor and struggled to find a rhythm on offense. It finished the ballgame shooting 34.3 percent from the floor but it was even worse from 3-point range. Without one of their top sharpshooters, Jaclyn Rice, the Cougars made only 2-of-18 3-point attempts which eliminated any realistic hopes for a come from behind win.
At one point in the second half, the Cougars’ deficit was as large as 19 points when they were down 73-54 but they could not take the lid of the rim. “Our girls played with a lot of heart tonight but they just couldn’t knock it down,” assessed head coach Danelle Liles. “We moved the ball well and we had 25 offensive rebounds we just couldn’t score. I also felt that we would do something good and then come down and foul them on a shot. We couldn’t create any rhythm that way.”
Meanwhile, the Lions were consistently plodding along as 4 players amassed double figures in points. Schmidt scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Richter and Besse each tallied 16 points apiece.
Once again the story for Azusa Pacific was Lindsey West who had her third straight double-double. She scored a game-high 27 points and snared 11 rebounds in the loss. She made 11-of-12 free throw attempts. Ferdaszewski added 13 points and 5 boards while Ashley Oakes scored 12 points.
The Cougars will next head on the road and look to avenge their first conference loss of the season when they travel to Biola on Saturday night. The Eagles upset the Cougars 92-91 in overtime back on Nov. 29. Azusa Pacific has not allowed over 90 points in a game since then.