COSTA MESA — The consensus in sports is that numbers don't lie. But they can occasionally deceive.
The latter may have been the case Tuesday, as the Vanguard University women's basketball team needed less than 12 hours to refute the No. 1 national ranking bestowed upon it earlier Tuesday for the first time since 2007.
The case against the Lions' unanimous ascension to the top of the NAIA Division I poll was presented by visiting No. 11-ranked Westmont, which earned a 66-56 Golden State Athletic Conference victory at Vanguard for the third straight season. Vanguard Coach Russ Davis admitted the Warriors (12-3, 3-0 in conference), who swept the Lions (11-1, 2-1) last season, have his team's number.
Davis also reverted to a number to note the biggest factor behind the Warriors' latest conquest.
"No. 12," Davis said succinctly, referring to Westmont 6-foot-2 senior Tugce Canitez, the NAIA and GSAC Player of the Year as a junior, who represented Turkey in the London Olympic Games last summer. "They have No. 12 and we don't. She played great."
Canitez, who averaged 25 points in the two wins over Vanguard last season, led the winners with 23 points and 16 rebounds. She added four assists, one block and one steal in 36 minutes. Canitez, however, took her time to assert herself, going without a shot attempt for nearly the first 6 1/2 minutes.
Canitez had just eight points at halftime, two fewer than 6-1 junior teammate Kelsie Sampson, who sank five of her seven first-half field-goal tries to lead all scorers with 10.
Vanguard standouts Esther Timmermans and Nicole Ballestero had six points apiece at halftime, as the Warriors held a 34-32 advantage.
Ballestero, a junior guard who leads the Lions in scoring in her first season after transferring from the University of San Diego, accelerated her game early in the second half. She scored eight points during a 10-2 Vanguard run that created a 49-45 lead for the hosts.
But after Ballestero slithered through defenders for a transition layin with 12:21 left in the game, the Lions produced just one field goal over the next 7:14. By the time Alison Drennan swished a three-pointer with 5:07 left, Westmont had built a 58-49 advantage.
With its offensive sets producing little, Vanguard reverted to forcing shots after one-on-one moves. Many of those shots did not draw iron down the stretch. The Lions' late desperation helped them miss 23 of 32 second-half field-goal tries (28.1%) to drag their shooting percentage for the game down to 33.9%.
Ballestero finished with 18 points, but was seven for 22 from the field (31.8%) and missed her final six shots. She was also zero for three from three-point range and had half of the team's eight turnovers.
Timmermans almost disappeared in the final 20 minutes, when she took only two shots (both misses) to finish three for eight from the field. Timmermans, who came in averaging a double-double (14.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest) did lead the Lions with nine rebounds.
While Canitez was the best player on the floor, she had help, a recent development that Warriors Coach Kirsten Moore said has helped the team bounce back from a pair of late-December defeats that prompted their fall from No. 4 in the NAIA poll.
"Those losses made us a better basketball team," Moore said. "At that point, we were relying too much on [Canitez] to do everything. We had a lot of talents that weren't being used, because we were a one-man team. That's not the case anymore."
Canitez made eight of 13 field-goal tries and Sampson was eight for 14 to produce 16 points and seven rebounds. Sampson also had a game-best three blocks and chipped in two assists.
Esther Lee (12 points), and Celina Gougis (10) rounded out four Warriors in double figures, as the visitors produced all their points from their starting five.
Maree Drennan (seven points, five rebounds and two assists without a turnover in 30 minutes) also contributed heavily for the Lions, who will now try to chase Westmont and No. 8-ranked The Master's (16-0) for what would be the Lions' first GSAC title since 2010.
"We just didn't play very well," Davis said. "Give [Westmont] credit. But we've got a long way to go."