The Pit of Despair

There’s a reason why Vanguard University calls its homecourt The Pit.  The Lady Lions have always enjoyed an advantage in the tight confines of their gym and that held true on Saturday when the nation’s 12th-ranked squad methodically whipped The Master’s College 77-65, snapping the Mustangs’ modest two-game winning streak.

The loss dropped the Mustangs to 11-15 overall and 4-10 in the GSAC where they remain in an eighth-place tie with Concordia, a loser earlier in the evening to Azusa Pacific.

Reinvigorated by their recent play, the Mustangs came into the game confident that they could pull off an upset of the perennial national power Lions.  And, in the early going they stayed right with the hosts, grabbing a 3-2 lead on a Kimmy Iverson three-pointer two minutes into action, tying the game on another Iverson three-ball three minutes later, and then going in front 8-6 on a Zoe Scott layup with 14:21 left in the opening half.

Senior Ella Joines knotted the contest at 11 with a trifecta at the 12:36 mark but that would be the last time the Mustangs would threaten as the Lion raced away on a 6-0 spurt, keeping the visitors off the scoreboard for nearly four minutes.  Joines hit another three-pointer with 8:51 remaining to pull the club within 17-14 but the Lions retaliated with a game-changing 16-3 burst over a five-minute span that lengthened the advantage to 33-17.

The Lions maintained that double-figure cushion for the next two minutes until a Lena Rivera layup capped off a 10-2 run, slicing the deficit to 35-27.  Freshman Whitney Best fueled the burst with a jumper, Scott and Iverson buried consecutive three-balls, and Rivera finished things off.

However, the Lions answered with a three-pointer on their next possession, keying a 6-2 spurt that led to a 41-31 lead at halftime.  The Mustangs shot a tick under 38% during the opening 20 minutes and the Lions weren’t much better at 41%, but they forced nine turnovers that contributed to 11 points.

Coming out of the break, the Lions maintained a comfortable margin, leading by as many as 13 points until the game’s closing minutes and never letting it slip below eight.  The Mustangs pulled to within that number on multiple occasions but could never get closer.

The first of those came with 11:50 left in the game when Joines drained another three-pointer, closing the gap to 54-46.  But, the Lions responded with a 5-0 spurt to regain control.  After falling behind 61-48, the Mustangs matched that, closing to 61-53 on a pair of Joines’ free throws.

Again, though, the Lions retaliated and this time it was decisive as they ripped off seven straight points to put the game out of reach, 68-53.  The Mustangs would carve the deficit to nine points twice more before the end but it was way too late.

Iverson, who drained five three-pointers, led all scorers with 17 points.  Joines and Scott complemented her with 13 points apiece.  Lena Rivera grabbed a game-high eight rebounds to go along with eight points.

If that was tough enough, it gets even more difficult for the Mustangs Tuesday evening when they return home to host first-place Westmont, the country’s No. 6 team.