FULLERTON — After watching his team roll the metaphorical boulder up the hill against scrappy Montana Tech on Wednesday, Vanguard University women's basketball coach Russ Davis ultimately was able to celebrate a milestone.
The Lions, ranked No. 10 in the NAIA, played with all the rust that its 25-day holiday layoff had produced. Their wire-to-wire lead became tenuous in the closing seconds, but they held on for a 62-58 triumph in the opening round of pool play at the Biola Holiday Classic at Hope International University.
The win was No. 400 in 15-plus seasons at Vanguard for Coach Russ Davis, who is 400-102 heading into today's pool-play clash with the University of British Columbia at 1 p.m. at Biola.
"We haven't played in 25 days and it looked like it," said Davis, whose team improved to 7-1, largely due to some timely three-point shooting after intermission.
Three different Lions netted three-pointers during a stretch of 2:50 early in the second half to help bump a 37-31 halftime advantage to 48-36 with 14:27 left.
The Lions, who had only one two-point field goal in the second half, added a pair of threes in the final 9:45 and hit five of six foul shots in the last 24 seconds to hold off the Orediggers (4-6).
Junior Veronica Beavor made both ends of a one-and-one from the line with four seconds left to finalize the scoring. Senior Paige Halberg (front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds left) and sophomore T.J. Goddard (both ends of a one-and-one with 24 seconds left, helped Vanguard prevail, despite mostly losing on the stat sheet.
Halberg finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals to pace the winners, who extended their winning streak to three. They last played on Dec. 3, when they defeated Biola in a Golden State Athletic Conference contest.
"It's a pretty long break and a lot of people think we're crazy for doing it," said Halberg, whose steal and assist on a Chelsea Alfafara three-pointer with 4:03 left put Vanguard up, 57-49, with 4:03 remaining.
But the Lions, who had 10 of their 13 turnovers in the second half, did not have another field goal. Vanguard made just six of 27 field-goal attempts in the final 20 minutes (22.2%) and finished 17 of 57 for the game (29.8%).
Montana Tech, which had won three of its previous four after a 1-4 start, also showed some rust after an 18-day hiatus since its last game. The Orediggers pulled to within 59-58 on a three-pointer by freshman Mandy Machinal (20 points, including three three-pointers) with 18 seconds left.
After Halberg missed her second free-throw attempt with 15 seconds left, Montana Tech saw an entry pass to 6-foot-2 sophomore Kelsey DeWit (16 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench) slip off her fingers and out of bounds under the Orediggers basket with five seconds left.
Beavor converted after the ensuing foul and Machinal missed a window-dressing three-pointer at the buzzer.
"Paige made some big plays and [Goddard] made some big threes," Davis said. "We didn't shoot well and we didn't run the offense correctly, but we found a way to win."
Vanguard forced 19 turnovers, but was outrebounded, 48-39.
"We outrebounded Biola, which is one of the best rebounding teams in the country," Davis said. "But [Montana Tech] came in and outhustled us. I just think our legs weren't there. It's going to be interesting the next couple days."
Goddard matched Halberg for team-high scoring honors and Alfafara made three of five field-goal tries, all from beyond the arc, to add nine points in 18 minutes.
Esther Timmermans had 10 of her 11 points in the opening half and added five rebounds for the winners.
"It's a lot of success and I'm proud of that," Davis, who coached previously at Estancia High, said of his 400th win at the Vanguard. "It just tells you what kind of players I've had over the years. My name may be on it, but I've had some really good players who have worked very hard."