The idea of Christmas coming early sounds like a good thing.
It wasn’t for The Master’s University’s women’s basketball team on Thursday in Phoenix.
Arizona Christian’s Courtney Christmas poured in 32 points, and the Firestorm pulled away in the fourth quarter to upend the Mustangs, 87-68.
The loss dropped the 15th-ranked Mustangs to 1-2 in the Golden State Athletic Conference play and 10-4 overall.
“There’s a steep learning curve to be able to win on the road in conference play,” said Mustang coach Dan Waldeck. “This is the most balanced the GSAC has been in a long time.”
Some of that has to do with Christmas, whose first two points of the game were part of an 8-0 start by the Firestorm. The NAIA All-American scored just one more bucket in the opening stanza and that may have been why the Mustangs rallied to catch and pass the Firestorm.
A Hannah Forrar layup with 3:38 remaining in the quarter tied the game at 12, and a Jessica Soares layup just under two minutes later handed the Mustangs their first lead of the game, 16-15.
They expanded the advantage to four points on a Forrar three-point play and led 19-17 after the opening 10 minutes.
That advantage lasted just over a minute into the second quarter when Christmas tied it with a jumper in the paint, igniting an 8-0 run that vaulted the Firestorm ahead 23-19.
The Mustangs answered with two Sabrina Thompson free throws and a Jamilee Iddings’ bucket to tie things up, and when Brooke Bailey drained a 3-pointer with 4:13 remaining, TMU had a 27-26 lead.
The slightest of leads lasted all of one possession as the Firestorm used a trio of 3-pointers in a 93-second window to rip off nine straight points and take the lead for good.
Christmas, who tallied 10 points in the quarter, capped the flurry with a couple of treys as ACU eventually outscored the Mustangs 16-2 down the stretch to take a 42-29 advantage into the locker room.
As she had in the second quarter, Christmas opened the third with a basket and the Firestorm led by as many as 17 in the period before the Mustangs fought back to pull within 60-51 at quarter’s end.
Three-pointers from Bailey and Forrar sparked a late 14-6 run that propelled the Mustangs back into the game.
The Mustangs closed the deficit to eight points (64-56) on a Hannah Ostrom 3-pointer with eight minutes remaining but they wouldn’t get any closer as the Firestorm pulled away with runs of 6-0 and 7-0 over the final seven-plus minutes.
Fittingly, Christmas tallied the final four points that gave the Firestorm their largest lead of the game and the contest’s final score.
Christmas also tore down a game-high nine rebounds as the ACU outrebounded TMU 44-35.
“Our inability to defend and rebound consistently is really hurting us,” Waldeck said. “We’ll either make the necessary changes or continue to be up and down.”
Bailey, who canned a trio of trifectas, paced the Mustangs with a career-high 20 points while collecting six rebounds and handing out four assists.
Forrar added 12 off the bench while Ostrom and Anika Neuman had 10 points apiece.
Hoping to regain their winning touch, the Mustangs head west Saturday to San Diego where they’ll take on San Diego Christian. San Diego lost to No. 14 Westmont on Thursday, 64-52.