COSTA MESA — Beating Golden State Athletic Conference opponents never seems to go out of style for the Vanguard University women's basketball team. So, it was fitting that the Lions' comeback win over visiting Concordia in the conference opener Tuesday night amounted to project runway.
After managing just four inside baskets during a first half in which they accumulated a 38-29 deficit, the No. 5-ranked Lions spread the floor and gashed the Eagles' defense with drives that produced 12 second-half field goals from inside six feet.
And when the ball didn't go in the basket, a whistle sent Vanguard to the free-throw line, as it made 36 of 48 foul shots. Concordia (3-2) made only six of 13 free-throw attempts and failed to sustain some hot first-half shooting past the early stage of the second half.
"[The Eagles] came in with a lot of confidence, but we let them go off with their confidence at the beginning of the game," said Vanguard senior point guard Sarah Boyd, who was the model of offensive aggression for the Lions on her way to 17 points. "They had all the momentum, because we didn't step up."
But, Boyd said, the Lions finally began embracing Coach Russ Davis' game plan, which was to drive repeatedly to the basket with a lineup that eventually consisted of four guards and senior Molly Pfohl.
"We started to attack to score," said Boyd, who missed all four of her field-goal tries in the first half and wound up three for 16 for the game, but netted 11 of 12 foul shots. "In the first half, we were super passive."
The increased aggression on offense also helped the Lions buckle down at the defensive end. They held Concordia to 37.8% shooting from the field in the final 20 minutes, after the Eagles netted 16 of 30 in the first half.
"We didn't play great," Davis said. "But when you don't play well, you've got to give the other team credit. Concordia did a great job of confusing us. They had 38 points at halftime and that doesn't happen [to us] very often.
"But they had trouble guarding us and they kept fouling us. We made 30 more free throws than they did."
Still, Concordia hit three three-pointers within a span of just less than four minutes early in the second half and led, 53-41, with 13:56 left.
But a three-point play by Boyd sparked a 9-0 Vanguard run and the Lions eventually pulled even at 61-61 on a layup by Pfohl with 6:55 left.
After a missed three-pointer by Concordia, Chelsea Alfafara drained a three ball for Vanguard to put the Lions up, 64-61. It was their first lead since 7-6 and they never trailed again.
Pfohl, a 6-foot senior who made all 12 of her free throws, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes.
Sophomore guard Veronica Beavor sliced up the Concordia defense when she wasn't shooting over it on her way to 15 points.
Boyd added three assists and three steals, both team highs, and, like a handful of her teammates, skidded repeatedly onto the floor for loose balls.
Aminata Biteye, a 6-1 freshman from Senegal, collected 10 of her 13 rebounds on the offensive end. She had three putbacks to account for her six points.
Junior Ariel Castillo had an off shooting night (zero for 11), but made five of six foul shots and added four rebounds and two assists.
Despite giving up a size advantage, Vanguard posted a 51-40 rebounding edge and forced 21 turnovers while committing 17.
"We found a way to win, which is the sign of a good team," Boyd said. "But I feel like next game, we shouldn't cut it so close."
Karen Carney, who was seven for seven from the field in the first half, finished with 17 points to pace four Eagles starters in double figures.
Golden State Athletic Conference
Vanguard 82, Concordia 74
Concordia – Carney 17, Wallace 4, Hunter 17, Fu 14, Priest 13, Howard 4, Patton 4, Auberry 1.
3-pt. goals – Hunter 3, Fu 2, Priest 1, Howard 1, Carney 1.
Fouled out – Carney, Fu, Howard.
Technicals – None.
VU – Biteye 6, Castillo 5, Pfohl 17, Boyd 17, Beavor 16, Alfafara 12, Belmont 5, Sahagun 2, Burns 2.
3-pt. goals – Beavor 2, Pfohl 1, Alfafara 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – Concordia, 38-29.