CARSON, Calif. -- When the NAIA's No. 18-ranked Azusa Pacific went through its warm-ups seemingly without missing a shot it made head coach Danelle Liles a tad bit uneasy.
“I’m superstitious about things like that,” said the third-year coach. “Then the game started and we couldn’t buy a basket.”
The Cougars came out and shot a miserable 4-for-29 from 3-point range, a distance from which they are usually more consistent, but used a tough zone defense to their advantage in knocking off Cal State Dominguez Hills, 72-68, on Wednesday evening in Carson, Calif.
Alyssa Ferdaszewski scored a game-high 19 points and Lindsey West added 12 points and 6 rebounds in helping Azusa Pacific win its second straight in improving to 5-3 overall.
“We did not shoot well tonight but we were great defensively and I’m proud of the girls’ effort,” Liles said.
The Cougars used a zone defense to limit the penetration of the quick Toro guards, Tameka Blue and Jessica Liang, and keep them out of the paint. Despite Blue’s 9 assists, the Cougars defense forced her to commit 9 turnovers and limited her to 4-for-12 shooting from the floor.
Azusa Pacific had similar success against Liang holding her to 3-for-11 shooting and 10 points in 37 minutes.
Offensively getting the ball in the basket from the perimeter was a struggle but the Cougars made up for it in transition. “We pushed the ball well all night long and got lay-ups,” Liles said. “We had open looks but it didn’t go in.”
Azusa Pacific found itself down 51-41 after an Alana Bailey basket with just under 12 minutes to play in the game. It appeared that a poor shooting night might wind up costing them the game but the Cougars began to storm back behind Ferdaszewski.
She buried a 3-pointer to spark an 11-2 run that cut the Toros’ lead to a single point at 53-52 with 7:16 left. After the teams traded baskets Ferdaszewski knocked down another triple to give the Cougars a 57-55 lead. It was their first lead since midway through the first half.
“Alyssa has been playing really well the past 3 games and she did again tonight,” said Liles. “She’s an intense, competitive player and it felt like she was the only one hitting at times.”
The Toros did not vanish but continued to fight. Bailey scored on a feed from Blue to put Cal State Dominguez Hills back on top 60-59. Once again it was Ferdaszewski that answered with a 3 to begin a 7-0 run that put the Cougars in command, 66-60, with 3:32 remaining.
The zone proved key as the Cougars limited the Toros to 39.7 percent shooting from the field. They were unable to force Azusa Pacific into switching up strategy. “They are a very athletic team and I’m not sure how long we could have gone man-to-man against them so our zone was important,” Liles added.
While the Cougars shot only slightly better at 41.4 percent they heated up as the game progressed leading to the win.
Ashley Oakes added 9 points while Sarah Leathers had 6 points, 5 assists and 4 steals for the winners.
Azusa Pacific will next be in action on Monday, Dec. 19, when it hosts St. Ambrose (Iowa) at the Felix Event Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.