COLUMBIA — When the Columbia College men’s basketball team arrives in Kansas City for the NAIA Division I National Championship tournament next week, two Division I transfers, including a 6-foot-10 center who nearly averages a double-double, will be staring back at it.
Columbia College will play the Azusa Pacific (Calif.) Cougars, the tournament’s No. 13 seed, on Wednesday, with tip-off set for 2:15 p.m. at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. Columbia College (25-8), despite being ranked No. 15 in the final NAIA poll, was not given one of 16 national seeds in the 32-team tournament, and finds itself matched against a team that has appeared in the past 12 NAIA tournaments, the NAIA’s second-longest active streak.
LOCATION: Azusa, Calif. MASCOT: Cougars COACH: Justin Leslie (22-10, first season) NAIA TOURNAMENT APPEARANCES: 15 (22-15 record) BEST FINISH: Runner-up (2005) PAY TO SEE: Davon Roberts. Roberts averages 16 points a game and has racked up seven double-doubles this season. KEEP AN EYE ON: David Burgess. Burgess, a 6-10, 260-pound center, averages just under 10 points and 10 rebounds a game, and spent the second half of his sophomore season under Mark Few at Gonzaga. TELL YOUR FRIENDS: Azusa Pacific opened their season with a 111-61 exhibition game loss to UCLA at Pauley Pavillion in Los Angeles. Kevin Love had 15 points and 12 rebounds in his first collegiate contest.
“I was surprised that we slid, considering we just had the one loss last week,” said Columbia College coach Bob Burchard, who saw the Cougars lose 75-71 to McKendree, who earned the tournament’s 11th-seed, Saturday in the American Midwest Conference Tournament. “I really thought we’d be closer to the middle of the pack.”
Tournament rules prohibit teams that have met earlier in the season and teams from the same conference from facing each other in the first round of the tournament, and Burchard said the jostling that occurs from that rule may have pushed his team out of the top 16.
Azusa Pacific, members of the Golden State Athletic Conference, is led by senior forward Davon Roberts, who played his first three seasons at Sacramento State University. Roberts, who averages 16 points and nearly seven rebounds, and 6-10, 260-pound David Burgess, who averages 9.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, have the Cougars at 22-10 entering the tournament and the two have combined
for 14 double-doubles this season. Azusa Pacific is 12-3 in its past 15 games, with two losses coming in overtime and all three coming on last-second shots.
Azusa Pacific defeated Columbia College 61-55 in overtime in the 1997 national tournament in Tulsa, Okla., and first-year coach Justin Leslie inherited a team with a 22-15 record in the national tournament, including three third-place finishes and a runner-up finish in 2005.
“Their conference is one of the deepest in the NAIA, in my opinion,” Burchard said. “So, without question, this is going to be a tough matchup for us.”