Despite a resilient effort, the Cougars season draws to a close with two frustrating defeats to the Sea Lions.
The Azusa Pacific men’s basketball team lost both of their final two games of the year to Point Loma Nazarene. The Cougars finished their COVID-19 shortened season with a disappointing 4-6 conference record, which was third-best in the four-team PacWest Southern California pod. PLNU ( 8-1) is expected to battle Biola in two more games that will determine the Southern California pod champion.
This series was the first of the year between the two PacWest rivals who initially had four total contests scheduled in pod play. Their first back-to-back meeting was intended to be played on Feb. 5 and 6 but was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
Friday, Feb. 27 – Final: 65-85 PLNU
APU went on the road for the first of the two-game slate at the Golden Gym in San Diego, Calif. Both teams came into Friday’s matchup having split their previous series against their respective opponents. After handing Concordia their first and only win of the season last weekend, APU looked to finish their season strong against a very disciplined and experienced Point Loma squad.
Senior shooting guard Mandrell Worthy helped give APU a hot start offensively by scoring 10 of their first 12 points. Worthy would finish as the Cougars leading scorer in the contest with 24 points on 44.4% shooting. Though they led by six after three minutes of play, the Cougars’ poor perimeter defense allowed the Sea Lions to quickly take the lead shortly thereafter.
PLNU was able to control both the paint and the pace of play after taking the lead. A thunderous slam dunk from center Sasha French off a nifty behind-the-back pass from Brennan Rymer provided a much-needed offensive spark for the Cougars, but they struggled on the defensive end throughout the entirety of the game.
Point Loma took a double-digit lead halfway through the first half and never looked back. They finished the night with an astounding 16 of 33 made three-point attempts, 11 more than the Cougars.
Saturday, Feb. 28 – Final: 91-79 PLNU
The Cougars hosted the Sea Lions at the Felix Event Center on Saturday after being blown out the night before. APU’s struggles continued in the first half of their second matchup. The Sea Lions took advantage of open threes and second chance opportunities due to the Cougars’ deficient perimeter defense and rebounding effort.
Rymer was a bright spot early on, as he was able to generate quality offensive looks for his teammates and create his own opportunities. He finished with a team-high 14 along with five assists and five rebounds on the night. PLNU hit three straight triples late in the first half, propelling them towards a 12-point tear that put them in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game. The first half concluded with the Cougars down 45-31.
APU seemed to turn up their intensity in the second half. They threw a variety of different defensive looks at Point Loma, including a full-court press in several instances. Their determination disrupted Point Loma and helped them cut their lead to 10 with less than two minutes to play. The Cougars couldn’t get within single digits; however, and lost the contest 91-79.
Sea Lions forward Kaden Anderson was the key to victory for his team on Saturday. He scored a career-high 37 points on 14-20 shooting and went six for seven from behind the arc.
Point Loma’s experience and chemistry gave them a distinct advantage in this series. They shot the lights out on both nights, converting on both open and contested looks. They played fundamentally sound and savvy defense. They managed to hold Mandrell Worthy, who averages 12.6 points per game, to only four points on night two. Point Loma played especially well in the post on both ends of the floor, rebounding consistently and rarely giving up open shots in the paint.
“For the most part we did what we wanted to do,” said Head Coach Peter Bond. “A common theme is that we didn’t shoot the ball all that well, especially early, so we were in an uphill battle. But I am really proud of how hard they played in the second half.”
With the 2020-21 season now complete, the Cougars will look to find their stride next season. They will begin offseason training after taking roughly two weeks off to regroup. Though all players were given an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 related irregularities of this season, it is unlikely that the roster will remain the same. Nevertheless, coach Bond is happy that his team had the opportunity to compete this season with all the uncertainty of last year.
“We’re taking this opportunity on this really strange year to build off the good things and move from there,” said Bond.
The Cougars will certainly be back in the fold next season, hungry to succeed and eager to compete under more normal circumstances.