AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior forward Christian Katuala’s first career double-double led Azusa Pacific to a dominant rebounding effort in a 75-64 victory at home over Holy Names Wednesday night at the Felix Event Center.
Katuala scored 14 points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, and the Cougars followed his lead on the boards by out-rebounding Holy Names by a 47-31 margin. Nineteen of Azusa Pacific’s 47 rebounds came on the offensive glass, leading to 20 second-chance points for the Cougars, who also registered a 36-22 advantage in scoring in the paint.
“Holy Names played really hard, and they gave us all we could handle out there, but it was nice to be the bigger, more physical team,” Cougar head coach Justin Leslie said. “We out-rebounded them by 16, and that covered up a ton of mistakes that we made and enabled us to keep going. You’re not going to lose many games with 20 second chance points, because that kept us from going into scoring droughts.”
Azusa Pacific quickly turned a 34-32 halftime lead into a double-digit margin with a 10-0 run on five baskets in the paint early in the second half for a 52-38 lead with 13:50 remaining in the game. The 14-point margin was the largest of the game, and it was during that stretch that the Cougars held Holy Names scoreless for over five minutes.
Redshirt freshman forward Sharif Watson scored six straight points after Ian Collins scored with 17:55 left to pull Holy Names to within 42-38. Watson scored on a putback, a layup, and a dunk in a span of less than two minutes to start the 10-point run. Katuala added a layup followed by senior guard B.J. Porter’s dunk that pushed the lead to 52-38.
“Coming into the game, we knew we were a lot bigger than them,” Katuala said, “and we thought we could take advantage on the boards.”
Holy Names got as close as six points after a 10-3 run pulled the Hawks to within 61-55 with 6:27 left, but sophomore guard Troy Leaf converted a three-point play to and scored again on consecutive possessions to keep the lead in double digits. The Cougars led by at least eight points over the final five minutes of play.
In the first half, Kevin Stafford and Tyler Goldston drilled consecutive three-pointers to erase an early five-point lead for Holy Names. Their triples sparked a 17-3 run that spanned more than six minutes, turning a 14-9 deficit into a 26-17 lead on a Katuala layup with 5:44 left in the first half. Richard Craig hit a pair of three-pointers in the final 3:38 of the half to help Holy Names cut the Cougars’ halftime lead to just two points, 34-32.
“In the first half, we might have come out a little emotionally drained after those two big road games,” Leaf said. “Holy Names took it to us in the first half, and I don’t think we were ready for that. We needed to make some adjustments at halftime to get that intensity going and find that fire we needed.”
Katuala hit six-of-six shots from the field, adding two free throws to account for his 14-point tally. Leaf scored a team-high 16 points, all in the second half, and Porter added 15 points along with one block and two steals. Watson finished with eight points and six rebounds, and sophomore forward Andy Jones added four points with eight rebounds for the Cougars, who have posted a positive rebounding margin for three straight games for its longest such streak of the year.
“We just went on the road against two of the best rebounding and most physical teams in the league, and we out-rebounded both Grand Canyon and Dixie State,” Leslie said. “That says a lot for this young team to go throw their nose in there, get physical and nasty, and go get that done. That was our margin for error tonight. Because we controlled the boards, it seemed that anytime they made a run, we would be able to answer with a putback.”
Holy Names was led by Craig’s 18 points off the bench, all on six-of-14 shooting from beyond the three-point arc. Collins added 17 points for the Hawks, although he also committed a game-high six turnovers, and Tyler Fry contributed 14 points and team-highs of seven rebounds and four steals.
The victory was Azusa Pacific’s first in over three weeks of Pacific West Conference play, and with the win the Cougars improve to 7-9 overall and 4-4 in PacWest play. Holy Names falls to 4-16 overall and 1-10 PacWest.
Azusa Pacific remains home for its next three contests against the PacWest’s other Bay Area programs. The Cougars host Notre Dame de Namur on Saturday at 3 p.m., followed by home games against Academy of Art and Dominican next Monday and Wednesday.