Men’s basketball hits roadblock in tourney

APU’s men’s basketball season ended in the semifinals of the Division II West Regional, losing to host Western Oregon 81-69. The fifth-seeded Cougars struggled to contain the top-seeded Wolves, who shot 48 percent from the field and 52.2 percent from behind the arc to win.

It was a role reversal from last year, when the Cougars won 75-67 in the opening round of the West Region tournament and were the top-seeded host.

“It’s…sweet to get a little bit of revenge here in front of our home crowd,” senior Western Oregon guard Devon Alexander said. He finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

The Cougars got off to a slow start, trailing 10-2 to open the game. Azusa Pacific was able to draw even at 10-10, but struggled to keep pace with the Wolves, who took a 38-29 lead into the locker room at halftime. Western Oregon forward and GNAC Player of the Year Andy Avgi scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, on 5 of 6 shooting and 4 of 4 from three-point range.

“We had opportunities to keep it a bit closer that we missed out on,” APU head coach Justin Leslie said. “We fought back and really made a nice run in the last eight minutes, but we came up short.”

The score continued to mount against the Cougars in the second half of the game.

The Wolves went on a 15-4 run, pushing the lead all the way to 18 points with 7:18 minutes left to play. Resilient, the Cougars responded with a 19-4 run of their own that brought the Cougars within five points, 68-63, with 2:57 minutes left. Senior guard Bruce English was instrumental in putting the run together, scoring 10 points during the push and ending with 16 points in the second half. English led the Cougars with 18 points in the game.

Ultimately, however, the Wolves’ lead proved to be too much, as the team hit 21 of their 24 second-half free throws to keep their lead. The win advances the Wolves to the West Region final and improves their record to 29-3.

“I thought the four seniors just put us on their back tonight,” Western Oregon head coach Jim Shaw said. “Andy [Avgi], Devon [Alexander], Julian [Nichols] and Jordan [Wiley]…brought all of us home.”

The four scored 70 of the Wolves’ 81 total points, made 12 of 13 assists and grabbed 23 of 29 total rebounds for Western Oregon. It was their night in their arena, and the Cougars were just living in it.

“Last year, we weren’t projected to go very far and we went to the elite eight,” APU senior guard Jared Zoller said. “This year, the same thing [happened]. We were picked to finish fifth in the conference and ended up winning the conference title. That just goes to show how hard we work, and how hard the coaches work to push us.”

“That’s the bar that we set here at Azusa Pacific, to be relevant year in and year out in the West Region,” Leslie agreed.

Zoller, English and senior guard LyDell Cardwell are all finishing their basketball careers at APU.

“This group of seniors this year…They’re bought in for life,” Leslie said.

The loss marks the end of the road for the Cougars, who finish the year 23-9 as repeat PacWest Champions.