By: Nicolette Kirkland, Vanguard (Calif.) Director of Media and Promotions
COSTA MESA, Calif. – The night after its head coach was inducted into the Vanguard Athletics Hall of Fame, the nation's top-ranked team, the Lions, demonstrated the strength of Russ Davis' empire with a dominant 88-71 victory over No. 17 Hope International in the NAIA Game of the Week. Senior Taylor Belmont (Oregon City, Ore.) had a memorable night for The Pride with 24 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds a block and a steal.
Vanguard sits at 17-0 (6-0 GSAC) on the season. With the loss, the Royals drop to 15-5 overall and 4-2 in conference play.
The NAIA game of the week lived up to its lofty billing from the beginning as the Lions and the Royals played a tight contest with VU holding a slight edge for the opening ten minutes, before Hope grabbed its first advantage of the evening (27-26) off of a Brittany Bauman lay-up at the 9:26 mark.
A three-minute 7-0 run featuring a Nicole Ballestero (Orange, Calif.) jumper, two free throws from Jordie Smith (Wilton, Calif.) and a Samantha Doucette (Irvine, Calif.) 3-pointer saw VU take the lead back in an hurry and though HIU kept it within reach, shots continued to fall for the Pride as the margin grew steadily.
Freshman Ashley Land (Eugene, Ore.) nailed a timely bucket from behind the arc at 5:42 to put the Blue and Gold up seven (36-29) and The Pride held on to a 43-35 lead at the break.
Bauman kept HIU in the mix with nearly half of the Royal's points (17) while her teammate Andrina Rendon posted 12 points and 7 rebounds in the period.
Vanguard got 10 apiece from Ballestero and Belmont and 9 from Doucette. Senior Leigha Bednar (Keller, Texas) grabbed 7 off of the glass for the Lions before the break, despite VU being out-boarded by Hope 26-24 through 20 minutes.
Doucette sank the first bucket of the second and two excellent passes from Belmont and junior Ashleigh Anderson (Oregon City, Ore.) on the next two possessions led to a pair of lay-ups from Doucette and Bednar.
After a slight Hope International run, Belmont dropped a no-look dime to Anderson on the fast break to extend the margin to 53-44 for VU.
Bednar notched her ninth rebound at 14:42, a falling offensive board, and somehow had the peace of mind to toss it behind her back before she hit the ground to a waiting Doucette who paid back the hustle in full with a make.
Belmont rattled of the Pride's next five points but Rendon pulled and sank one from nearly six feet beyond the arc to bring the game within nine points (60-51).
Vanguard's next bucket, a simple lay-up, earned Ballestero a spot in the history books, as she recorded the 1,000th point of her two-season career with the Lions.
The Blue and Gold pulled away in a flash, spreading the margin to 16 points (76-60) following back-to-back treys from Anderson and Belmont and two shots apiece from Ballestero and Doucette.
Ballestero finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists while Doucette managed 20 points and 6 boards.
Junior Melissa Norman (Elk Grove, Calif.) notched crazy eights in the game with 8 points and 8 rebounds. She also amassed 3 blocks on the night. Anderson's line was equally impressive as she posted 8 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 swats in 24 minutes.
Bednar snatched a team-high 11 off of the glass in the affair. Seven of her rebounds were offensive.
Bauman and Rendon scored 25 and 27, respectively, for the Royals. Rendon also amassed 14 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 blocks in the loss.
Vanguard travels to The Master's College on Tuesday for a 5:30pm competition with the ninth-ranked Mustangs.