AZUSA — The inevitable end to a golden era for Vanguard University women's basketball came Friday night at Azusa Pacific. But the season figures to continue.
The No. 17-ranked Lions were handled, 81-62, by No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific in the semifinals of the Golden State Athletic Tournament. The loss ends a run of seven seasons in which Vanguard (17-11) has won either the conference regular-season or tournament crown.
APU (28-4), this season's regular-season champion, which has now won 17 straight, will meet Cal Baptist in Monday's title game.
The Lions figure to be on the practice floor Monday, preparing for its 10th straight trip to the NAIA Tournament that begins March 16 in Jackson, Tenn.
"We're in," Vanguard Coach Russ Davis said of his team's pending at-large berth into the 32-team NAIA Tournament. "We beat a ranked team [No. 22 Westmont] earlier this week [in Tuesday's quarterfinals at Westmont] and we lost to the No. 3 team in the nation, so we won't drop that far. I think they'll take the teams in the top 25."
APU, which played in the NAIA title game last season, might just finish atop the heap this season. The Cougars have superior size, quickness, depth and skill and it was only a matter of time before that trumped the supreme fight and strong game plan the Lions brought Friday.
Vanguard came out firing, netting two three-pointers in the first three minutes to take a 10-4 lead.
The Lions' third three-pointer with 14:47 left in the first half gave the visitors a 19-12 cushion.
But Vanguard managed just four field goals the rest of the half, including a span of 6:36 without a basket, to allow the Cougars to run past them.
APU finished the half on a 16-3 run to claim a 41-30 advantage and the Lions never came closer than nine after intermission.
APU's Eboni Sadler, a 5-foot-9 junior, had 17 first-half points on eight-of-11 shooting from the field, to spark the hosts.
Sadler finished with 26 points to top four starters in double figures for the winners.
Seniors Molly Pfohl (16 points and 10 rebounds) and Sarah Boyd (14 points, six rebounds and three assists) paced the Lions, as has been the case all season for the All-GSAC performers.
Sophomore Allison Burns had 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Lions, but she was one for 10 from the field until making her final three attempts late in the contest.
Burns had plenty of company when it came to shooting woes. Sophomore guard Chelsea Alfafara, who had nine of the Lions' first 21 points, missed her final 11 field-goal tries to finish four for 16 from the field. She was one for 11 from three-point range, where Vanguard sank just five of 26 (19.2%).
The Lions, who had a handful of shots blocked and several more altered by taller defenders, finished 22 of 78 from the field (28.2%).
APU made 33 of 60 from the field (55%) to overcome the Lions' 49-39 rebounding advantage. It's the first time in 21 games the Cougars have had a double-digit rebounding deficit and only the fourth time during their winning streak they have been outrebounded .
Vanguard senior Danielle Arriola was three for 12 from the field, while Boyd was four for 13.
Vanguard reserves missed all nine of their field-goal attempts and produced just two points.