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Colleges: Vanguard braces for road challenge

January 30, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • Junior Taylor Belmont, left, and the rest of the Vangaurd University women's basketball team faces a big week in GSAC play.
Junior Taylor Belmont, left, and the rest of the Vangaurd… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

The Vanguard University women's basketball team is only halfway through its Golden State Athletic Conference schedule. But the Lions (15-3, 9-1 in conference and ranked No. 9 in the NAIA) are just four days away from potentially determining their legitimacy as a conference title contender.

Coach Russ Davis' squad, on a seven-game winning streak, hits the road for conference clashes with GSAC-leading and No. 4-ranked Westmont (20-1, 10-0) on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. and at No. 12-ranked Azusa Pacific (15-5, 8-2), the defending national champion, on Friday at 5:30 p.m.

"It's not going to be easy, but I think we're excited to see where we're at," said Vanguard Coach Russ Davis. "To stay in the hunt, we need to play well."

Vanguard has played better recently, upping its defensive intensity and its aggressiveness on the boards. The Lions lead the GSAC in defense (52.3 points allowed per game) in conference games only. They have also posted a plus-10 rebounding average against conference foes, tops in the GSAC.

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Yet this year, unlike most of Davis' 16-season tenure, Vanguard has struggled in the shooting department.

The Lions are shooting 38.4% from the field and 28.1% from three-point range in their first 18 games.

"We're trying so hard defensively and working so hard on so many things, we're just not making open shots," said Davis, who is seeking his 11th conference title. "It's just not falling our way right now, but its going to come around. We have shooters, we just need to have makers."

Vanguard's inconsistent shooting was apparent in a Jan. 24 win at Hope International. The Lions were eight for 14 from three-point range in the first half of a 104-37 triumph, but were just two for 10 in the second half.

Leading the way for Vanguard is fifth-year senior Paige Halberg and junior post Esther Timmermans, a 6-foot-1 Australian who is in her first season with the Lions after transferring from Murray State College.

Halberg, whose 33 minutes per game are eight more than the second-most on the team (Timmermans), is averaging 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds. Assuming much of the point guard duties, she leads the squad in assists (92), steals (30) and blocked shots (15).

"Paige provides really strong leadership," said Davis, who guided Vanguard to the NAIA title in 2008, when Halberg was a freshman starter. "She has been in the program for five years and she gives us a calming influence."

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