From tip off to the final buzzer, the Azusa Pacific men’s basketball team competed in a fast paced, high-energy season opener game against Cal State Dominguez Hills Friday night, claiming a 92-73 victory.
Junior point guard Robert Sandoval returned to the floor for the first time since the 2011-2012 season after redshirting last year. Sandoval led the team with 14 points, 11 assists, six steals and seven rebounds to their win.
“I had nerves and I was excited early in the game, but I was pumped just to be back out there on the floor,” Sandoval said. “We had a bunch of transition points, a bunch of dunks, and I like that because it gets the crowd excited and boosts the team’s energy.”
Sophomore forward Sharif Watson provided the majority of those dunks as he led the Cougars in scoring with 18 points while going 8-for-8 from the field and 2-for-2 from the free throw line.
“I was looking for my spots, and it makes it easy when guys like Robert and Troy [Leaf] draw so much attention from the other team,” Watson said. “When they lose track of me, I have to make them pay for it.”
Though the Cougars may have been down by eight points early in the first half, shooting only 41 percent from the field, the players and coaches made quick adjustments in order to take a 37-31 lead by the end of the first half.
“There’s no substitute for veterans, and most of our younger guys have been here for at least three years,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “There were moments in the game where they weren’t rattled, and they were prepared to make a play. They saw things and made the proper decisions to take advantage of what they saw. This game is a testament to how good they could be as they progress throughout the season. It takes a lot of responsibility to go out and have as much freedom as we allow them to play with.”
In the second half, the Cougars’ blitzed the Toros offensively with a field goal percentage of about 70 percent, shooting 22-for-33 from the field. In addition to offensive proficiency, the Cougars also made some huge defensive stops, which turned into fast break points.
“We picked up our energy defensively,” Sandoval said. “They started going to a lot of ball screens, and we were able to work as a team on defense to get stops and force them to take tough shots.”
In the second half, the Cougars scored 55 points and gave up only 42 points, which brought the final score to 92-73. The Cougars forced 21 turnovers while surrendering only eight turnovers themselves.
“Cal State Dominguez Hills is a good team, so I’m very pleased to go out there and get that first win against a quality team,” Leslie said. “We want to play fast and on attack – that’s what I tell the players when I recruit them, it’s what I tell them the first day of practice, and while it’s a lot of fun to play and watch, I think it also fits our personnel and skill sets.”
The Cougars will face Cal Poly Pomona Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Felix Event Center to conclude the Cougar Classic. Cal State Pomona, fell to Western Oregon on Friday in a 70-65 loss. Following the conclusion of the Classic, the Cougars look forward to Saturday, November 23rd where they face their old-time rival, Biola, at 7:30 p.m. in the Felix Event Center.