When you play more than 30 basketball games, including postseason, they can't all be clinics. But the best NAIA programs in the country can seemingly disguise a few clunkers beneath an avalanche of statistics that lead to a typical blowout win.
Such was the case for No. 1-ranked Vanguard University on Friday, as the Lions struggled mightily early, and generally disappointed their coach for most of the nonconference contest, before eventually earning an 84-39 triumph over visiting Simpson University that actually adds to their season of dominance.
Vanguard, which missed nine of its first 12 field-goal attempts, trailed the Red Hawks, 15-8, with 12:30 left in the first half. But a 14-0 run by the hosts, who later reeled off a 16-0 surge, eventually created a 42-25 halftime lead that continually swelled after intermission. Vanguard (7-0) ended the game on an 11-0 run and its 45-point margin is its second-biggest of the season, bettered only by the 100-44 season-opening drubbing of Occidental.
Vanguard has now outscored its first seven opponents by an average of 33 points per game. In the first six wins, the average bulge had been 31.
"We've got to do better than that," said Vanguard Coach Russ Davis, who was not his typically jovial self after the lopsided win. "[Simpson] came out and were very aggressive and got after us, and we just sat there. I was disappointed about the way we showed up. We played in spurts, we just played flat. I don't know if it was because it's finals week or what."
It was the only game in a nine-game stretch for Vanguard, which last played on Dec. 7 and won't play again until Tuesday at Cal State San Marcos.
Lions' sharpshooters Nicole Ballestero and Samantha Doucette, who came in averaging nearly 44 points between them, had subpar shooting performances on their way to 15 and 16 points, respectively.
Ballestero, an All-American last season as a junior, missed her first five shots, including four in the paint.
She finished six for 15 from the field (40%), including one for five from three-point range. She had only one rebound, while adding three steals and two assists.
Doucette, who shot 52.7% the first six games, was five for 13, though three of seven from threedom. She had four rebounds, three steals and one assist.
The standout for the Lions was senior point guard Taylor Belmont, who gashed the Simpson defense for eight layups to account for her 16 points. Belmont, who did not miss a field-goal attempt, shared the team lead with six rebounds and posted a game-best eight assists. She also had one steal.
"Taylor played great," Davis said. "She gave us a lot of energy and she attacked on offense."
With Belmont and sophomore backup point guard Lauren Martin (three for four from the field, including her only three-pointer on the way to 10 points), tipping the scales back toward normalcy, Vanguard wound up shooting a respectable 47.1% from the field, about 1.5 percentage points better than its previous season average.
Belmont did have six of the hosts' 14 turnovers, but Simpson collected 27 turnovers and shot just 21.7% from the field in the second half (five for 23) to finish at 26.5% for the game (13 for 49). Simpson helped its cause by netting 10 of 11 foul shots, while Vanguard was 13 for 16 from the line.
Vanguard posted a 33-9 advantage on points off turnovers and its 17 offensive boards led to a 21-2 bulge over the Red Hawks in second-chance points.
Vanguard collected 12 of the game's 14 fast-break points.
Simpson was three for 20 from three-point range (15%), with two of those makes coming on consecutive possessions within a 41-second span of the opening three minutes, as the visitors took a 10-3 advantage.
Tiffany Aaserude sank the back-to-back three-pointers to put the Lions on their heels, but made just one more field goal the rest of the game to match the team-best total posted by two others.
Senior Leigha Bednar and freshman Jamie Goff also had six rebounds apiece for Vanguard, for which junior Melissa Norman had five.