MONTECITO, Calif. - The #6 Westmont men's basketball team (26-5 overall) will not be cutting down the nets inside Murchison Gymnasium for a second time this season.
The Warriors cut their own nets down after clinching the Golden State Athletic Conference regular season championship, but won't be celebrating a GSAC Tournament title tomorrow night after falling to fourth-seeded #19 Arizona Christian (24-8) in the semifinals, 102-86.
"We ran into a team that was really hot," Westmont head coach John Moore said. "They deserve credit for how well they shot it, how well they got the ball in the right guys' hands."
After Westmont lost to Hope International in the regular season finale, 96-87, the Firestorm became the first team to score at least 100 points in a regulation game against the Warriors since Azusa Pacific did so on Nov. 9, 2015.
"Our defense the last couple games has been a little bit my worry," Moore said. "We gave up 50 in the first half and I didn't think we could give up 50 in the second half. Then we gave up 52 in the second."
Arizona Christian went ahead early, 18-11, but Westmont responded with a 10-2 run to take a 21-20 lead after a 3-point play from Justin Bessard.
That was the last advantage the Warriors would have though, as the Firestorm took a 50-41 lead into halftime.
Arizona Christian extended its advantage to 14 with a 3-pointer just over two minutes into the second half. The Firestorm's lead stayed mostly in double figures until Bessard's triple brought the Warriors within six, 64-70, with 9:04 left to play.
"I thought when we cut it to that point, if we could just execute a few times down the floor, it'd be a tie game," Moore said. "We just couldn't get stops at the other end. I think that was the main thing. They hit shots at the most important time. Their offensive rebounds at key times really hurt us as well."
Arizona Christian responded to Bessard's three with a triple of its own and then quickly restored its double-digit lead for good.
Westmont has now lost two games in a row for the first time this season.
"We have to turn the page in a very distinct and important way," Moore said. "We have to get back to our defensive principles, which weren't there tonight. I think offensively, we just need to run the stuff we run. We've gotten away from that a little bit and we've done a little bit too much with the ball in certain people's hands.
"Bram (Carrasco) was so good, but it's hard when he has to do as much as he had to do tonight. I think we'll get back to our basics."
Carrasco scored 21 points and added six assists, while Jared Brown added 15 points for the Warriors.
Bessard led Westmont in both points (27) and rebounds (14) to record his fifth double-double of the season.
"JB did have a nice game," Moore said. "He played well and played with a lot of heart. He did what we needed him to do. I thought JB was one of the shining lights we had tonight."
Westmont was limited to just 41.1% shooting from the field, including 30.3% from 3-point range, while Arizona Christian shot 50.7% overall and 43.3% from behind the arc.
The Firestorm bench outscored that of the Warriors, 41-16.
"This team has been a certain type of team all season long and that team out there didn't look like the team that we've had all season long," Moore said. "Part of that may have something to do with the injuries that we're suffering through right now, but we aren't going to use those types of excuses. We just didn't play the type of game that we're capable of playing tonight.
"Maybe the guys wanted it a little too much. It wasn't like they weren't trying to play hard, but I think they may have wanted it a little bit too much."
Arizona Christian advances to tomorrow's GSAC Tournament Championship Game, where the Firestorm will take on Hope International (22-10) in a matchup featuring the fourth and sixth seeds in the conference. The sixth-seeded Royals defeated second-seeded #16 Menlo (19-9), 77-72, in the first semifinal after upsetting third-seeded #20 The Master's (23-8) yesterday.
Westmont now awaits its seeding in the upcoming NAIA National Tournament. The Warriors, who will be making their program record sixth straight appearance at Nationals, earned an automatic berth into the tournament by virtue of winning the GSAC regular season championship.
The team will learn its First Round opponent on Wednesday when the NAIA Tournament bracket is revealed.
Story courtesy of Westmont Athletics.