AZUSA, Calif. -- If you take a look at Hope International and simply look at their record it would be a quick indicator at the improvement that the Royals have made this season.
Through the first 20 minutes tonight at the Felix Event Center they displayed a balanced offense and trailed by only a basket, 48-46.
However, in the end, the NAIA’s No. 14-ranked Azusa Pacific (10-3, 3-1) proved to be to strong offensively and used a 21-2 run midway through the second half to turn away Hope International (8-4, 1-2), 86-73, Thursday night.
“I think it was our defense that turned things around for us. Give them credit they played well and their coach is doing a great job,” said head coach Danelle Liles. “We talked at halftime about how we can’t allow 46 points in a half. Our communication wasn’t very good in the first half and we improved that.”
The adjustment proved to make a big difference as the Cougars held the Royals to only 27 second half points. But Azusa Pacific did not have much breathing room for awhile as the stubborn Royal team refused to go away.
With the game tied at 61-61, the Cougars began to hit their stride as they reeled off 21 of the next 23 points. Lindsey West hit a free throw to break the deadlock and Sarah Leathers followed with back-to-back 3-pointers and, just like that, the lead grew to 68-61 to begin the decisive run.
The Cougars played tenacious man-to-man defense and locked up forward Jasmine Nault, who finished with 23 points, and the rest of the Royals holding them without a field goal for over 8 minutes during the stretch. By the time Nault put in a jumper it was too late as the Cougars lead had already ballooned to 17.
West finished the game with 25 points and 9 rebounds while Meliame Hala’ufia finished with 15 points and 4 rebounds.
“They had good posts but we’ve been practicing hard at our plays under the basket,” Hala’ufia said. “We played in front of them and it worked.”
West and Hala’ufia repeatedly got lay-ups off cuts to the basket in halfcourt sets as well as during fast breaks. The Cougars outscored the Royals 44-32 in the paint.
The victory was the Cougars eighth consecutive win. It’s the first time Azusa Pacific has won that many games consecutively since the 2001-02 season.
The Cougars will next travel to Irvine, Calif., and continue GSAC play on Saturday to take on No. 24-ranked Concordia. Azusa Pacific is 4-0 away from the Felix Event Center so far this season.