In three games last week, the Cougars added two wins to their record along with one loss, advancing their record to 5-5.
After their first series against Point Loma was postponed due to COVID-19 protocol in early February, Azusa Pacific’s men’s basketball team lost three straight contests. That tough stretch was a product of a 10-day layoff that quickly transitioned into playing three games over the span of five days.
It was a bizarre sequence of days for head coach Peter Bond’s team. When you add the limited amount of time this team had to prepare for the current season, along with the schedule essentially being cut into a third — evident by them only playing 12 games this season compared to last year’s 29 — the Cougars faced circumstances that the program has never experienced before.
“These last two weeks have been a tough stretch,” mentioned Bond. “Without any practice time before the start of the season, that meant no conditioning as well. So to play through the type of schedule we were given, we knew it was gonna be tough for us. Yet, throughout the season, and when we have recovered from disappointing games, we have shown the ability to be a really good basketball team.”
Despite their 3-4 record heading into last week, the Cougars treated the next three games as a refresh. While that shift in pace was difficult to acquire, especially considering they would advance their recent stretch of games to six contests in 11 days, the Cougars’ focus was on full display last Tuesday against Fresno Pacific.
A team that beat them only a week prior, the Sunbirds had no answer for the Cougars’ offense that was firing at all cylinders. Shooting 20-41 (45.5%) from behind the arc, APU dominated FPU with an imposing 98-62 victory.
That offensive flurry carried over into this past weekend’s series against Concordia Irvine, a team they had already beaten twice on the year. While the Eagles played an impressive first half in Friday’s matchup, APU executed a 9-0 run in the second half, in large part due to quite possibly their best defensive effort in any half of the entire season.
Senior guard Brennan Rymer was the star of Friday’s game. Along with scoring a game-high 17 points, he finished with five assists and five boards. He was also the floor general of an offensive attack that outscored Concordia in fastbreak points 14-3.
On the other hand, Saturday’s game did not begin with such an impression. Near midway through the first half, the Cougars found themselves in an early 21-6 hole. While APU fought back to cut the deficit to 11-points by the end of the half, escaping with a victory after such a slow start is always challenging. This is especially true for the 2021 Cougars, as they have yet to win a game when trailing after the first 20 minutes this season.
Nevertheless, APU fought back resiliently in the second half. With only 4:50 left on the clock, the Eagles were only ahead by a single point. Turnovers got the best of the Cougars throughout the next two minutes, as three turnovers eventually turned into a 9-2 run for the Eagles. APU was unable to recover, allowing Irvine to escape with the 74-63 edge.
“They have some guys that shot the ball really well, and we just lost their shooters. We were guarding their non-shooters as if they were shooters, and that led to some good looks for them,” said Bond. “And they played us really well, but where we struggled was rushing towards the glass. We didn’t create a lot of second chance looks.”
One of the most shocking developments from Saturday’s contest was the Cougars’ three-point execution. After shooting 41.5 percent from behind the arc throughout the last two games, APU made only three of their 19 attempts from that spot on Saturday. With those types of shots not falling, along with an inability to recover offensive boards, a rough night for the Cougars was inevitable.
“We’re gonna have bad shooting nights, so that’s not concerning to me,” Bond commented. “Where the concern was tonight was with the effort on the glass. When your possessions end with misses and an immediate transition into defense, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
If the PacWest decides not to extend this season’s schedule — and there has yet to be any indication that they will do so — APU’s season will conclude next weekend with a series against Point Loma, a team that has played exceptional basketball and is 5-1 this year. With the Cougars standing at 4-4 in inner-conference play, they will hope to play the role of spoiler in their first, and only, series against the Sea Lions this season.