Westmont men’s basketball coach John Moore sat on one of the bleachers inside of Murchison Gym on Saturday after his team got through dusting another opponent. He had an ear-to-ear smile as he sat down, and for good reason. The Warriors had just completed their fourth win in a row — a 96-74 rout of Ottawa University of Arizona.
It was a game that was never really close. Ottawa came in with a losing record, but Westmont treated the Spirit like they were the top team in the nation on the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics level.
Behind 23 points from junior guard Abram Carrasco and a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds by Justin Bessard, the Warriors gave Moore and his coaches plenty of reasons to smile after one of the team’s rare afternoon games.
With its win, Westmont moved three games ahead of the pack in the Golden State Athletic Conference with seven games to play. The Warriors, by shooting 49% (34 of 70), also improved to a staggering 21-2 overall record and a 10-1 mark in the GSAC. Westmont’s only two losses this season have come against Division I opponent UCSB and conference perennial power The Master’s.
That’s been it for a team that Moore has had a ball coaching this season. It’s been a remarkable run for Westmont, which has five new starters in the lineup from last season.
“It’s a really enjoyable team that finds a way to play together,” Moore said. “The last two games, the energy which we started both games with was great. This game I think we were up by 20 at an early point in the game, and then the last game against (Arizona Christian) I think we had a double-digit lead very soon into the game.
“Very good starts, very good starts, and that’s the energy of our defense. Our defense has been superb the last few games.”
Carrasco hasn’t been too shabby, either.
After going for 22 points last time out against Arizona Christian, Carrasco finished 8-for-15 from the field and 4 of 7 from 3-point range. He was also 3-for-4 at the free-throw line to finish with a game-high 23.
“He’s so consistent. He’s a fine leader and he’s a fine defender,” Moore said. “If we were a little more of a gambling team, he could average probably five to eight steals a game. He’s got that kind of quickness.
“He’s also got the combination of 3-point shooting and attacking the basket. He’s got a really nice mid-range shot and he’s getting better at the free-throw line.”
Westmont received a number of outstanding performances in winning for the seventh time in the last eight games.
Besides Bessard and Carrasco, the Warriors got 18 points off the bench from junior guard Gyse Hulsebosch and 11 points from freshman guard Jared Brown. Moore was especially pleased with the game Hulsebosch had, which included a 4-for-7 performance from behind the 3-point line.
“Gyse was so good today,” Westmont’s 27th-year coach said. “He was ready to shoot and the guys found him. We talked in one of the huddles about when Gyse comes in the game we want to make sure that he gets early looks at the basket.
“Typically, he’s the first sub in, and the rest of the guys are already warmed up. The idea is to get him warmed up so he can help accelerate the process.”
As he was in the Warriors previous game against Arizona Christian, Bessard was just too much for Ottawa (6-13, 2-8 GSAC) to handle both inside and on the perimeter.
He nearly had a double-double at halftime with 13 points and nine rebounds. Bessard, like his teammates, was also a force on defense for most of the game.
“JB has come such a long way,” Moore said. “He’s had some moments where he’s been pretty emotional out there, but he’s had two games in a row where he’s done very little to get off center. “I think his teammates have had a lot to do with that. I thought we really had a power presence against a good post player (Shazier Lawson) today. JB was so effective today.”
As well as Westmont has played this season, Bessard believes there’s still another level to which the Warriors can rise.
“I think we’re just getting started,” he said. “We’re not done yet. We’ve got a lot more to prove and can still get better. We definitely can still get better. I feel like we have a couple of players who still aren’t playing at their full peak right now. But once that happens, it’s going to be scary.”
After losing it’s only NAIA game of the season to The Masters, 70-69, on Jan. 18, Westmont has dominated at home and on the road.
Of the Warriors four straight wins since the defeat to The Master’s, three of them have been by double digits. Westmont began the season by winning 14 straight before the UCSB loss.
Bessard was asked about the Warriors response to their recent setback against The Master’s.
“I think a loss like that does help, for the most part,” he said. “When you go undefeated for a really long time, you kind of get complacent. I think that was really a wakeup call for us.
“We know that any team can beat us on any given night if we don’t give it our complete effort every time. The Master’s is a good team, but I don’t think we should lose to anybody.”