RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- After watching a 14-point first-half lead dissolve away into a 5-point deficit midway through the second half, the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific may have appeared dead in the water. However, the Cougars regrouped and overcame a season-low 33 percent (25-for-75) shooting effort by dominating the boards at both end of the floor in a key 78-71 road win over No. 19-ranked California Baptist.
Senior forward Abby Johnson grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds to lead Azusa Pacific’s 55-38 rebounding edge, and she scored a game-high 20 points while blocking 3 Lancer shots. Sophomore center Kristie Hala’ufia bounced back from a 1-for-9 opening half, scoring 12 of her 16 points in the second half to provide an effective 1-2 punch in the post for the Cougars.
Senior guard Sarah Leathers knocked down her first of 4 3-pointers in the game with 4:27 remaining in the first half, capping a 10-1 run that gave Azusa Pacific a 28-14 lead. California Baptist trimmed the halftime deficit to a manageable 6 points at 34-28, and Nicole Davis converted a 3-point play in the first minute of the second half to pull the Lancers to within 3 points at 36-33.
Hala’ufia answered to push the lead back to 38-33, but the Cougars went ice-cold for the next 5 minutes, missing 10 straight from the field, as well as a pair of free throws during the stretch. California Baptist took advantage, turning the tables with a 12-2 run to take a 45-40 lead with 12:40 remaining in the game. Freshman guard C.J. Hill’s 3-pointer sparked Azusa Pacific into a game-changing 10-point swing of its own, with a pair of Leathers treys finishing off a 14-4 run that gave the Cougars a 54-49 lead with 8:46 to play.
California Baptist twice got back to within 3 points, the last time at 56-53, but Johnson converted a 3-point play with 6:37 remaining to spark a 7-point spurt that got the lead back into double-digits at 63-53 with just under 5 minutes left. The Cougars led by at least 6 points the rest of the way, converting 10-of-10 free throws in the final 1:23 to seal the win.
Despite its woes from the field, Azusa Pacific was effective from long range, knocking down 8-of-20 (40 percent) on 3-pointers, and finishing 20-of-23 (87 percent) at the free throw line. The Cougars pulled down 23 offensive rebounds and held California Baptist to its third-lowest scoring output of the season.
Leathers finished with 12 points, all on 3-pointers, to follow up her career-high 30-point outburst in Tuesday’s 78-69 win over The Master’s, and senior guard Kate Shipp also tossed in 12 points to give the Cougars 4 players in double figures.
California Baptist was led by Davis’ 11th 20-point game of the season, and Jeanine Deno added 15 points off the bench, although the duo combined to shoot 13-of-36 from the field. Brenna Hahn added 11 points, and Bryan Williams grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds for the Lancers.
The win was Azusa Pacific’s eighth over an NAIA Top 25 opponent this season, lifting its record to 16-3 overall, 8-1 GSAC. The victory also kept the Cougars in a 3-way tie for first place in the GSAC standings along with No. 3-ranked Vanguard and No. 6-ranked Point Loma Nazarene. California Baptist, which lost by just 3 points apiece to the aforementioned conference leaders prior to tonight’s defeat, drops to 11-5 overall, 5-4 GSAC.
The Cougars are back in action Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m., wrapping up the first half of the 20-game GSAC schedule when they host Biola.