COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Simply put this was not the way that Azusa Pacific wanted to end the regular season. On the road, against the top-ranked team in the NAIA, the Cougars were looking to show continued consistency that has marked their quality play lately.
Instead, the NAIA’s No. 1-ranked Vanguard dominated No. 14 Azusa Pacific from the opening moments of the game and brushed the Cougars aside, 96-67, to polish off an unbeaten regular season.
The Lions’ Jessica Richter and Kelly Schmidt combined for 55 points, 18 rebounds and 7 rebounds as they finished the year 27-0 which includes a 20-0 GSAC record. Vanguard is the first conference team to run the table successfully since – then known as Southern California College – it went 12-0 in 1998. The fact that the Lions clinched their fourth straight GSAC title earlier in the year gave the Cougars some added motivation coming into the contest but it did not prove beneficial.
Anytime that the Cougars have to go to The Pit they know a tough battle is at hand. But last season Azusa Pacific was able to knock off the Lions on the road. Alas, a repeat of those events was not in order tonight.
The Lions jumped out to a quick lead and set a pace that the Cougars could not match. Vanguard scored the first 7 points of the game to take an early lead and then steadily built on its advantage. Leading 14-6, Richter kick started a 13-5 run by hitting a 3 to put the Cougars in a big hole.
Trailing 27-11, Jaclyn Rice and Alyssa Ferdaszewski made back-to-back hoops, including a triple by Ferdaszewski, to bring Azusa Pacific within 11. However, turnovers began to plague the Cougars. A pair of steals on consecutive possessions prevented Azusa Pacific points and led to baskets on the other end. When Lacey Burns shot down a 3 with 5:13 to play in the first half the Lions’ lead had grown to 37-19.
A key aspect to the way the Cougars play is relying on getting points from the free throw line but in the first half they did not get to the charity stripe once. They shot only 32 percent from the floor and struggled to combat a Lion offense that had seemingly everyone on the same page for most of the game.
Running up a large deficit is not the best idea but against Vanguard it has proved fatal on all occasions this season. Dominating the glass in the second half, the Lions held off the Cougars who improved their touch from the field but could not provided any stronger resistance on defense.
The Cougars were led by Monica Somers who scored 21 points. Vanguard clamped down on Azusa Pacific’s leading scorer Lindsey West, limiting her to 7 points and 1 rebound in 33 minutes.
With the loss, the Cougars finished in a 3-way tie for second place in the GSAC with Point Loma Nazarene and The Master’s. The Cougars (22-8, 14-6) retain the third seed based on their record of having split with both the Sea Lions and the Mustangs. Point Loma Nazarene was 3-1 against the Cougars and Mustangs while The Master's was 1-3.
Azusa Pacific will face upstart Hope International in the first round of the GSAC Tournament on Wednesday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Felix Event Center.