COSTA MESA — Coach Russ Davis rattled off the names of five players as if they were on a missing persons report. They were gone from the Vanguard University women's basketball team lineup on Thursday.
Four of the players were out with injuries. One left the program during the break.
Davis surely misses the five players. The Lions are hurting, and in a Golden State Athletic Conference home game, they were exposed. That is not usually the case whenever Vanguard is the host.
It has been more than five years since the Lions dropped two home games in a season, let alone two in conference play. Azusa Pacific University was the second team to knock off Vanguard in the last five days at The Pit.
It was not pretty, as the eighth-ranked Cougars beat up the No. 12 Lions, 79-70, using their size to earn a road victory against Vanguard for the first time under four-year coach TJ Hardeman.
"They're so tough anywhere they play," Hardeman said of the Lions. "We're so big that we can afford to make some mistakes and make up for them by getting rebounds and tipping it in. When they made some mistakes, they didn't quite have that safety net that we did."
Vanguard (9-5, 5-3 in conference) cannot rely on much these days. The injuries to players Davis expected to count on have piled up.
Two have knee injuries, one has a swollen one, another has a broken foot, and one is dealing with back issues.
The problems look like they might end any chance Vanguard has at defending the regular-season conference title it shared with Azusa Pacific last season.
"We're going to be two games out [of first place], at least," said Davis before trying to stay optimistic, but it is difficult because health is not on the Lions' side with Paige Halberg and Taylor Spikes having to redshirt due to a knee and foot injury.
"It's just unbelievable. In 30 years I've coached, I've never been through injuries like this."
Even three players Davis sent out were not 100%.
Azusa Pacific (13-4, 5-2), last season's NAIA runner-up finisher, took advantage of the Lions' misfortune. The Cougars pounded the boards, getting second-chance opportunities whenever they practically wanted.
The result was a 47-23 rebounding edge to the Cougars. They actually grabbed one less offensive rebound than the Lions' rebounding total.
Azusa Pacific converted the extra chances as each of its starters finished in double figures. Kristie Hala'ufia, a 6-foot-2 center, recorded 15 points, tying her with Michelle Byrd and Briana Hall for the team lead.
Despite losing the physical battle inside early, the Lions hung in there. They only trailed the Cougars, 30-28, after Chelsea Alfafara nailed a wide-open three-pointer with 3:22 left in the first half.
The Lions failed to score again before halftime. The Cougars closed out the first half on a 9-0 run and took control with a 39-28 lead.
The shooting woes continued for Vanguard at the start of the second half. On the Lions' first four possessions, they missed three field-goal attempts and turned the ball over once.
Dating back to the first half, Vanguard went almost 51/2 minutes without any points. Alfafara knocked down her third three-pointer to end the drought and help the sophomore guard record 13 points.
It turned out to be a frustrating evening for Davis. He picked up a technical foul four minutes into the second half.
"Thank you!" Davis told the official before pleading to another member of the officiating crew.
An animated Davis actually sparked Vanguard after it went down by a dozen when Hall converted one of two free throws.
The Lions went on a 9-2 spurt, thanks to five straight points by 6-foot forward Molly Pfohl. The senior cut the deficit to five, the closest Vanguard got to Azusa Pacific in the second half.
Pfohl, who scored a game-high 19 points on seven-of-11 shooting, made a three-pointer with 12:14 left to play. The Cougars' lead was back down to six, but they could not overcome a depleted roster.
"That's a lot to overcome," said Davis, who is hoping to get good news on guard TJ Goddard, who will get an MRI today on her knee.
Golden State Athletic Conference
Azusa Pacific 79, Vanguard 70
APU – Hala'ufia 15, Hall 15, Byrd 15, Sadler 14, Moore-Porter 12, Williams 4, Ellis 3, Kenny 1.
3-pt. goals – Moore-Porter 1, Hall 1, Byrd 1, Ellis 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
VU – Pfohl 19, Alfafara 13, Boyd 13, Beavor 10, Burns 10, Arriola 5.
3-pt. goals – Alfafara 3, Boyd 3, Pfohl 1, Beavor 1, Arriola 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – Davis.
Halftime – APU, 39-28.