SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Physicality defined Tuesday's Golden State Athletic Conference rivalry between undefeated No. 1 Vanguard and No. 12 Westmont. The Lions proved dominant on the night, claiming the important 77-71 win to move to 14-0 on the season. Senior Nicole Ballestero (Orange, Calif.) put on a clinic, scoring a game-high 29 points for the Pride.
Westmont opened with four unanswered points before junior Melissa Norman (Elk Grove, Calif.) took her defender to the hole to give Vanguard its first bucket of the night. The Warriors also had success getting to the basket, however, and built a 10-6 lead before Lions' head coach Russ Davis signaled for his first timeout of the contest.
Shortly after the talk, the score was brought even at 10-all courtesy of a short jumper in the paint from senior Leigha Bednar (Keller, Texas) and a pair of free throws from the GSAC Player of the Week, senior Taylor Belmont (Oregon City, Ore.). Vanguard claimed an advantage on the next possession as Ballestero was fouled on a 3-point try and converted two from the charity stripe.
The Pride owned the boards (11-5) midway through the half, garnering most of its points off of second- or third- chance opportunities.
With Vanguard struggling to hit shots from the outside, Belmont exploited the open middle, scoring six straight points on drives for Vanguard and then knocked down two from the charity stripe to bring the Lions within two points (30-28) at the 7:06 mark.
Ballestero and Doucette began to produce as time wound down in the period and the Blue and Gold secured its biggest advantage of the half, 48-36, with less than 15 seconds on the clock.
Westmont never quite adjusted to the Lions' rebounding proficiency, as Vanguard racked 14 offensive caroms and out-boarded the Warriors 27-12 through 20 minutes.
The Lions closed the period on a 20-4 run and held Westmont scoreless for the final 7:03 of the first half.
Ballestero and Belmont posted 15 and 12 before the break, while Jordie Smith (Wilton, Calif.) came off of the bench to drop six, all off of offensive rebounds, in just nine minutes of action.
In the second, Westmont's Esther Lee began to make shots and the Warriors finally made the adjustment and began to crash. The change paid off as Westmont cut the margin to three (54-51) by 14:59.
At 9:38 Lee nailed one from behind the arc, her fourth of the half, to tie the game at 60-60 but Ballestero answered on the ensuing possession with one of her own to give Vanguard the edge.
Three minutes later, the Warriors left the hot Ballestero wide open behind the arc and she promptly made them pay as Vanguard extended its lead to 72-63.
With under three to play, Westmont came within six (75-69) as Kelsie Sampson hit a pair from the free throw line. The Warriors made it four on the next possession and the score held into the final minute as Vanguard missed two clutch attempts as time wound down.
Junior Ashleigh Anderson (Oregon City, Ore.) came up with a huge defensive stop on the ensuing trip, as she jammed Westmont's Lee on an offensive set designed to get the sharp-shooter a look from deep.
Ballestero converted two free throws to put the Lions up 77-71 and defense did the rest as Vanguard closed out the game with its perfect 14-0 record intact.
Westmont drops to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in GSAC play with the loss.
Belmont finished with 18 for the Pride, while Doucette, Norman and Smith managed 10, 8 and 6, respectively.
Doucette and Belmont hit the glass hard in the game, recording 7 rebounds apiece for Vanguard.
Lee and Sampson, who played particularly well in the second period, scored 22 and 16 for the Warriors.
The Lions look for win number 15 as they travel to Arizona Christian on Saturday for a 5:30 pm match-up with the Firestorm.