EL CAJON, Calif. -- Senior forward Abby Johnson tallied her third straight double-double to lead the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 57-50 road win over San Diego Christian Thursday night.
Johnson’s game-highs of 22 points and 14 rebounds paced a Cougar squad that improved to a perfect 5-0 conference record a quarter of the way through the 20-game GSAC schedule.
Azusa Pacific led wire-to-wire, and the Cougars closed each half with a strong defensive effort, holding San Diego Christian without a field goal over the final 2-and-a-half minutes of the opening period and again holding the host without a successful attempt from the field for more than 4 minutes to finish the game. The Hawks closed to within 4 points at 53-49 with 4:25 to play on Erika Hendrickson’s basket, but the host missed all 7 of its final shots. A Johnson jumper with just under 4 minutes to play and a pair of C.J. Hill free throws in the final minute provided the final margin of victory.
The Cougars built a 13-point halftime lead with a 15-for-30 (50 percent) shooting effort in which Johnson, senior guard Kate Shipp and sophomore center Kristel Eddington combined for 27 of Azusa Pacific’s 34 points. Each went 4-for-6 from the field in the period, with Shipp drilling a pair of 3-pointers for 10 first-half points en route to a 15-point effort for the game.
Johnson scored 5 of her team’s 7 points coming out of the halftime break, leading Azusa Pacific to its largest lead of the game at 41-24 with 16:51 remaining, and her 3-pointer 2 minutes later gave the Cougars a 44-29 lead. However, Dorchella James and Tynisha Utz accounted for all the scoring in a 10-0 run that spanned just over 3 minutes, cutting the deficit to 44-39 with just over 10 minutes left in the contest.
Shipp’s 3-pointer was followed by another Johnson bucket, pushing the lead back to 10 points, and the senior tandem accounted for all but 4 of Azusa Pacific’s 23 points after halftime.
Senior guard Sarah Leathers struggled to find her deadly 3-point stroke, finishing just 1-of-10 from long distance, but she found other ways to contribute, turning in game-highs of 10 assists and 5 steals. Kristie Hala’ufia’s shooting from the field was also uncharacteristically off-target, as the sophomore center sank just 2-of-10 from the field for 4 points, but she grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Cougars post a 43-39 rebounding edge.
James led San Diego Christian with a team-high 19 points, while Courtney Ash added 12 points. Hendrickson grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds, including 6 on the offensive glass, for the Hawks.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 13-2 overall, 5-0 in GSAC play, while San Diego Christian drops to 4-8 overall, 0-4 GSAC. The Cougars take their longest road trip for a conference game this season when they visit Fresno Pacific in GSAC action next Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 5:30 p.m.