‘Cats Can’t Catch Cougars, Fall 82-74 In Regional Semis
Cavin Holden led CWU with 24 points in Saturday's regional semifinal loss to Azusa Pacific.
Cavin Holden led CWU with 24 points in Saturday's regional semifinal loss to Azusa Pacific.

Saturday, March 16, 2024
by Evan O'Kelly, Assistant Commissioner For Communications


LOS ANGELES – A comeback push by the Central Washington men’s basketball team ran out of steam on Saturday evening at University Gym, as No. 8 seed Azusa Pacific topped the No. 5 seed Wildcats 82-74 in the semifinal round of the 2024 NCAA West Region Championships.

A game that featured seven ties and 10 lead changes got away from the Wildcats over the final five minutes, as APU out-scored CWU 14-7 down the stretch. The Wildcats finished their historic campaign with a record of 22-10, while winning their second GNAC Championships title and advancing to the regional championships for the first time since the 2012 season.

GNAC Championships MVP Samaad Hector was removed from the game after just three minutes and never returned due to an injury. The presence of the GNAC leader in double-doubles, who completed his 10th in Friday’s 110-90 win over Cal State Dominguez Hills, was sorely missed in the loss.

CWU’s Cavin Holden and Anjaylo Lloyd did the bulk of the lifting with Hector on the bench, with the former leading the team and one off his season high with 24 points and the latter adding 22. Holden made 7 of 10 shots including 5 of 7 threes in his highly-efficient 24 minutes. Lloyd finished his collegiate career with his sixth 20-point game of the season, knocking down 10 of 24 shots while adding six rebounds and a pair of assists. Mitch Brizee led the Wildcats in rebounding with eight, and Bradley Swillie contributed nine points and four rebounds.

Four Cougars scored 72 of their 82 points, with Ken West leading the team with 21 on 9-for-13 shooting and 3-for-5 accuracy from the arc. Bryce Sloan and George Reidy added 18 points apiece and Ethan Speaker finished with 15 to lead the Cougars. On a night where APU held a narrow 33-31 edge in rebounding, West led the way with seven boards. Azusa Pacific (16-16) advances to Monday’s NCAA West Region Championships title game against No. 2 seed Cal State San Bernardino (25-7) at 7 p.m. Pacific.

APU shot 54.5% (31-for-57) compared to a mark of 40.3% (27-for-67) by the Wildcats. A night after CWU hit a remarkable 17 of 27 threes for 62.9%, the ‘Cats came back down to earth with a line of 8-for-24 (33.3%) in Saturday’s defeat. Turnovers favored CWU with APU committing 11 and the former nine, but the Cougars out-scored the ‘Cats on points off turnovers 13-9 and points in the paint 38-30.

A layup by Lloyd at the 13:27 mark in the second half gave the Wildcats their largest lead of the night up 49-46, but a three in response by Sloan evened the score as CWU could not gain any separation. It was an uphill battle over the final 12 minutes for the Wildcats, who kept the game within striking distance until its waning minutes.

GAME NOTES: Saturday was the fifth all-time meeting between the two opponents, who split the first four contests 2-2…APU claimed an 89-79 win when the teams last met on Nov. 26, 2023…Saturday was the second time that the two programs met in the postseason, with the Wildcats winning 87-76 at the 1997 NAIA Championships in Tulsa, Okla.