By Barry Faulkner
6:50 PM PST, December 11, 2012
Russ Davis said he didn't want to name drop after his Vanguard University women's basketball team earned an impressive victory over visiting Westminster College of Utah on Saturday. But he went ahead and did so, nonetheless.
"I have to give an assist to my friend Geno Auriemma," Davis said after his No. 3-ranked Lions spanked the No. 4-ranked Griffins, 73-51, with what he called his 5-0 team's best performance of the young season. "We went to dinner [Friday] night."
Davis explained that Auriemma, who has guided the Connecticut women to seven NCAA titles and coached the U.S. women's Olympic team to a gold medal at the London Olympics last summer, was telling Davis about the Huskies' victory on Thursday and theorizing that he may be giving his Huskies players too much to think about.
"He talked about going back to what they're good at," said Davis, who applied the same bit of advice to his own team for Saturday's showdown.
"We played 21 [Davis' preferred one-two-two zone defense that has been a big part of his 421 victories in his 17 seasons at the Lions' helm] a lot more today than we have," Davis said. "We've been playing 2-3 zone. But [Auriemma] made me think and I told him that I might be doing a little more, too."
When things worked out, Davis vowed to call Auriemma to express his gratitude.
Davis has much to be thankful for, including the arrival of University of San Diego transfer Nicole Ballestero and the return of first-team All-GSAC post Esther Timmermans.
Ballestero and Timmermans led the way Saturday, scoring 25 and 22, respectively. Timmermans, a 6-foot-2 senior native of Australia, added 15 rebounds and made nine of 16 field-goal tries to help the Lions shoot 49.1% from the field.
Ballestero, a 5-8 junior guard, leads the team at 20.2 points per game, followed by Timmermans (13.6) and senior guard Chelsea Alfafara (10.6). Alfafara played her freshman season at Orange Coast College.
The Lions are beating teams by an average of 26.4 points thus far and remained in the No. 3 national ranking in the NAIA top 25 released Tuesday. Vanguard has been nationally ranked for 123 consecutive NAIA Division I polls.
Westminster (8-2) slipped to No. 5, while Vanguard's Golden State Athletic Conference rival, Westmont (7-1), featuring returning NAIA Player of the Year Tugce Canitez who represented Turkey in the London Olympics, moved up one spot to No. 4.
The Master's College (7-0), another GSAC entry, is ranked No. 13, led by junior UC Irvine transfer Jacqueline Marshall (12.4 points and six rebounds per game). TMC also defeated Westminster, 73-62, on Nov. 8.
Lubbock Christian (12-0) of Texas and Freed-Hardeman of Tennessee (11-0) are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Davis was extremely gratified about his team's performance Saturday, but mentioned that the Lions would be facing another challenge in Olivet Nazarene of Illinois, ranked No. 10 in NAIA Division II. That game is Dec. 28 as part of the Biola Holiday Classic at Hope International University in Fullerton.
The Lions, operating in a GSAC that lost 2011 conference and national champion Azusa Pacific and perennially tough Point Loma Nazarene to the NCAA Division II ranks during the off-season, are the conference favorite heading in, even though Westmont is defending its crown.
Vanguard won GSAC titles in seven of eight seasons from 2003-2010, but have not won it since.
Vanguard, which opens up conference play Jan. 8 at home against San Diego Christian, is scheduled to play host to Westmont on Jan. 15 and The Master's on Jan. 29. The Lions visit Santa Barbara-based Westmont on Feb. 5 and tackle The Master's in Santa Clarita on Feb. 19.
The UC Irvine men's basketball team (4-6) will be the underdog in its three remaining preconference games. The Anteaters visit Fresno State on Saturday. They then play host to LSU on Dec. 18, before visiting USC on Dec. 20.
Fresno State enters Wednesday's home clash against Colorado at 5-4. Four of its victories have come against Big West Conference foes and the other against NAIA cupcake San Diego Christian.
LSU entered Tuesday's home game against Chattanooga with a 5-0 record, while USC, including former UCI standout Eric Wise, is 3-6.
Wise, who sat out last season for the Trojans, is averaging 10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 26.4 minutes per game. He is second on the team in scoring and rebounding and his minutes are the fourth-most on the squad.
UCI opens Big West play Dec. 29 at home against UC Davis.
UCI senior post Adam Folker is shooting 52.4% from the field (33 for 63) and leads the Anteaters with 6.6 rebounds per contest. But he has made only six of 32 free-throw attempts (18.8%) and has missed his last 10 since making his final attempt at Pepperdine on Nov. 24.