SANTA CLARITA — The riddle of how to defeat the Vanguard University women's basketball team added another degree of difficulty Tuesday as the visiting Lions defeated The Master's College, 99-89.
The top-ranked Lions (18-0, 7-0 in conference) opened a two-game lead after the first round of conference play by dropping the No. 9-ranked Mustangs to 17-4, 5-2, behind a career-high 30 points from 6-foot-3 senior center Leigha Bednar.
Bednar, making her eighth start of the season, had scored 70 points in her first 16 games, for an average of 4.4 per contest. But on the finishing end of some pick-and-roll plays, frequent dribble penetration by VU guards, a handful of entry passes over the defense, some put-backs, and three jumpers ranging from eight to 17 feet, Bednar was 13 of 17 from the floor. Bednar also made four of five foul shots, collected seven rebounds and one blocked shot to emerge as the Lions' latest game-plan wrecker.
With Bednar dominating inside against a TMC squad that has just one player taller than 6-0, the Lions shot 55.4% from the field (41 for 74), including 21 for 31 in the second half (67.7%).
Senior All-American Nicole Ballestero added 26 points, including making four of seven from three-point range, while senior point guard Taylor Belmont and sophomore sharpshooter Samantha Doucette added 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Belmont, who fed Bednar consistently, finished with 11 assists and added four rebounds and two steals.
Doucette had six rebounds, four assists and two steals, while junior Ashleigh Anderson rounded out the starters with four points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Sophomore Jordie Smith was five for six from the field, including two for three from threedom, to chip in 12 points in 17 reserve minutes.
The Lions, who took a 48-36 halftime lead, upped the advantage to as many as 21 in the second half, continually hitting shots to exploit the increasingly gambling defense by the Mustangs.
The visitors had a 28-13 rebounding advantage at halftime, including 14 offensive boards, and finished with a 44-32 bulge in that department.
"Our girls shot the ball well," said Vanguard Assistant Coach Walt Simon, who filled in after Coach Russ Davis left the bench early in the second half with shortness of breath and light headedness. Davis, who has periodically missed parts of games or entire contests with similar issues the last few years, said after the game that he was heading to a hospital to get checked out. "[The Mustangs] didn't quit and they made a battle of it on the road. It was a good win for us, because it puts us two games ahead in conference, which gives us a little breathing room."
Bednar said she was a little breathless herself when she surveyed the stat sheet.
"It feels great," Bednar said of her best performance as a Lion. "Honestly, when they told me I had 30 points, I was completely stunned. The Master's is a great team, so we knew all baskets would be important. We knew the inside game was going to kill them and I had some very good passes from my guards, so I was just finishing."
The Lions will now attempt to finish off the seven conference rivals in the second round to secure the program's first GSAC regular-season title since 2010, but its 11th in Davis' 18 seasons at the helm.
"We know we still have tough games coming up and it's a big deal to us to go undefeated," Bednar said. "We have to lose three games for anyone to pass us, but we also know we still have to play our hardest."
A 13-4 run by the Mustangs in the final 1:39 trimmed the final margin, but the Lions have won only one game by fewer than 10 points (a six-point triumph at defending NAIA champion Westmont) and are outscoring foes 30 points per game.
Golden State Athletic Conference
Vanguard 99, The Master's 89
VU – Bednar 30, Ballestero 26, Belmont 15, Doucette 10, Anderson 4, Smith 12, Norman 2.
3-pt-goals – Ballestero 4, Smith 2, Anderson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
TMC – Marshall 21, Scott 21, Best 13, Burns 2, Nitake 2, Thompson 7, Kingery 7, Lindsley 6, Rivera 5, Cubello 3, Levanen 2.
3-pt-goals – Scott 5, Best 2, Lindsley 2, Rivera 1, Kingery 1, Thompson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – VU, 48-36.