Disappointed Azusa Pacific students, family and alum left the Felix Event Center Saturday after the men’s basketball team fell to Biola 83-78. This was the first time that the two rivals met as non-conference opponents in Azusa.
Cougars’ junior guard Troy Leaf had game-highs with 27 points and nine assists and senior forward Tyler Monroe posted 21 points and seven rebounds. However, it wasn’t enough to match Biola’s junior forward Mike Kurtz’s 20 points and nine rebounds and junior guard Pierre Zook’s 25 points.
“That wasn’t at all what I expected from this team,” Azusa Pacific head coach Justin Leslie said. “We were trying to force tempo by playing aggressive defensively, but all we did was blow assignments that gave Biola opportunities to score early and easily. We didn’t block out very well, and it was an awful defensive performance.”
The first half concluded with Biola’s 40-27 lead. The Cougars improved their performance in the second half by scoring 51 points in comparison to the Eagles’ 43 points, but it was not enough to ever tie the game. Kurtz made a layup that gave the team an 18-point lead – the largest lead throughout the game. In response, sophomore Sharif Watson brought the crowd to a roar with a slam-dunk that brought the Cougars to 37 points.
The Cougars shot 46 percent in comparison to the Eagles’ 63 percent. Despite this huge gap in shooting accuracy, APU managed to edge closer to Biola, and a dunk by Monroe cut the lead to single digits with 1:57 left in the game. The closest the Cougars got to the Eagles was when Leaf hit the last of three free throws with 16 seconds left to play, but it was too late for a comeback. Anytime the Cougars drew closer, the Eagles pushed the lead back to double digits.
“Biola is a good team, but they’re not a team that should have dominated the interior and the paint like they did tonight,” Leslie said. “We should have had a better performance, and we know what things we’re going to have to work on.”
The traditional rivals were conference rivals for 18 years in the NAIA’s Golden State Athletic Conference, exemplifying one of college basketball’s best contentions. With Azusa Pacific now in its second year of competing in the NCAA Division II Pacific West Conference, the two teams still continue this tradition on the court but will compete just once a year instead of twice.
APU won last year’s meeting in La Mirada, as well as the last two games in the Felix Event Center, allowing for the university to lead the all-time series with Biola, 55-47. Contrary to the expectations of the Cougars, the previous wins against the Eagles did not prove to serve as precedents in Saturday night’s game.
“If this rivalry can continue to work out with the schedule, we absolutely want to keep it going,” Leslie said. “This team right now is not physically tough, and it’s not that we aren’t strong, but physically and mentally we haven’t been able to go out there and force ourselves to compete for all those details. Going forward, that’s something we have to change.”
Azusa Pacific falls to a 1-2 record to begin the 2013-14 season. The Cougars prepare for the back-to-back in Riverside this upcoming weekend against Alaska Fairbanks and Northwest Nazarene (Idaho).