AZUSA, Calif. – There’s a reason college basketball teams play lesser opponents early in the season, and the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific better understands that purpose now.
The Cougars blew out Bethany College, 96-57, using a 20-0 run midway through the second half to produce a final outcome that gave the appearance of an easy night on the court. In reality, the game was anything but that.
“We need to grow, and we need to mature as a team,” said Cougar coach Justin Leslie. “We still have a lot to learn and that will probably only come by getting games under our feet.”
Five different Cougars scored in double figures led by junior Kimarley Williams’ season-high 16 points off the bench, 13 of which came in the second half. Seniors Todd Martin and Davon Roberts each added 14.
Azusa Pacific led by just 8 points at 47-39 less than 4 minutes into the second half, but sparked by Mike Danielian’s only basket of the night, a driving lay-up around traffic, the Cougars scored 20 consecutive points while a seemingly gassed set of Bruins missed 13 straight shots which allowed the Azusa Pacific to take a commanding 67-39 advantage.
“To be honest, in the end we just had more bodies than they did,” said Leslie. “We didn’t have a sense of urgency or defensive intensity in the first half and we allowed them to win the hustle plays and get the loose balls.”
Early on, Azusa Pacific was on a sprint toward the blow-out win before getting derailed midway through the first half. The Cougars made 4 straight shots including a trio of treys to jump out to an 11-2 lead just 2 minutes into the game. They were still up by 11 at 16-5 following a David Stafford lay-up, but Azusa Pacific lost it way the rest of the first and stumbled into halftime with a less than convincing 45-33 lead over the winless Bruins.
In the second half, Azusa Pacific went back to its half-court attack, forcing Bethany to slow its pace and wear down by playing defense. The emergence of 6-foot-10 center David Burgess help correct the Cougars’ attack. Back in action after a 13-day layoff with a sprain, Burgess came off the bench to collect a game-high 9 rebounds and post all 7 of his points in the second half.
“It was nice to have the 6-10 guy back in there,” Leslie said of Burgess’ play. “Though his conditioning isn’t what we want it to be, he staked his claim in the paint and was a difference maker.”
After making 3 3-pointers in a matter of 90 seconds early in the game, Azusa Pacific became too comfortable with the perimeter game and missed 16 of its next 18 shots from the arc.
“We never used our post advantage in the first half,” said Leslie. “For our perimeter game to work, we have to go inside-out and with our talent that should be an easy thing to do. But we made it difficult on ourselves.”
Azusa Pacific closed the game with a 49-18 run to pick up the home-opening victory of the young campaign. The Cougars improves to 2-1 while Bethany falls to 0-8.