FRESNO, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific wrapped up back-to-back road trips to the outer reaches of the Golden State Athletic Conference with a 74-68 win over Fresno Pacific Tuesday night, setting up a Saturday night showdown at the Felix Event Center between the GSAC’s only remaining unbeatens in conference play, the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Cougars and No. 3-ranked Vanguard.
The back-to-back trips to San Diego Christian and Fresno Pacific, a combined 730 round-trip miles from Azusa, are the Cougars’ 2 longest visits to conference opponents. The single-digit wins helped set up Saturday’s clash with 5-time defending GSAC champion Vanguard, which brings a 52-game conference unbeaten streak into the contest.
Senior forward Abby Johnson posted her fourth straight double-double, collecting game-highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds.
“Abby had a great night for us,” said Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman. “She showed why she is one of our team’s leaders, and she stepped it up for us.”
She was joined in double figures by 3 other Cougars, including senior guard Kate Shipp’s second straight 15-point effort. Sophomore center Kristie Hala’ufia tallied 13 points, while senior guard Sarah Leathers added 10 points.
Fresno Pacific opened the game with a 10-2 run, and Jessica Torrecillas’ second 3-pointer of the game gave the Sunbirds a 25-17 lead with just over 8 minutes to play in the first half. For the next 4-and-a-half minutes, Azusa Pacific held the Sunbirds without a field goal to help key an 11-1 run that gave the Cougars their first lead of the game at 28-26 with just under 4 minutes remaining. Johnson crashed the offensive glass to cap the run with a pair of second-chance baskets. Leathers’ 3-pointer in the final minute of the half broke a 36-36 tie, and Azusa Pacific never trailed again.
Bricali Cooley tied the game at 60-60 with a 3-pointer with 7:57 to play, but Shipp answered right back from long range on the ensuing possession. Samantha Cardeno brought the Sunbirds to within a point at 66-65 with just under 5 minutes left, but Johnson and Hala’ufia combined for 8 of the game’s final 11 points to help seal the victory. Johnson collected up 7 of her 12 rebounds on the offensive glass, leading Azusa Pacific to a 37-25 rebounding edge.
Fresno Pacific was paced by Kari Cox’s 17-point, 8-rebound performance, while Cardeno and Melissa Flores added 10 points apiece. The Sunbirds’ 24-for-52 (.462) effort from the field was the second-highest against an Azusa Pacific defense that held its first 5 GSAC opponents to a combined .343 percentage.
“(Fresno Pacific) played really well defensively, and they shot well,” said Hardeman. “I wished we would have done a better job defensively, but you have to give them credit for making some tough shots. We’re just happy to get the win.”
Azusa Pacific has now won 10 straight against Fresno Pacific, and the Cougars improve to 14-2 overall, 6-0 in GSAC play. The Sunbirds drop to 7-10 overall, 0-7 GSAC. The Cougars host Vanguard on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m.