AZUSA, Calif. -- Beating your rival is always good enough, even if the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific felt less than satisfied with its 77-70 win over Biola Tuesday night.
Yes, the Cougars could have shot for a higher percentage. They could have done a better job on the boards, and they most certainly could have taken better care of the basketball. But, in the end, posting a win despite what was far from its best performance of the year still feels pretty good.
Sophomore center Kristie Hala’ufia, 1 of 4 Azusa Pacific players in double figures, scored a team-high 17 points, and senior forward Abby Johnson finished with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, her seventh double-double in the past 8 games. The Cougars shot just 33 percent (9-or-27) from the field after halftime, and both teams grabbed 34 total rebounds. Azusa Pacific forced 30 Biola turnovers, 15 in each half, one of the few bright spots in the victory.
“It was definitely a team effort tonight,” said Hala’ufia. “We’re working up to Saturday’s big game (at Point Loma), and we knew we couldn’t think about that without a win tonight. Defensively, we kept our minds in there. If things weren’t going to work offensively, we knew we had to come up big on the defensive side.”
Senior guard Kate Shipp canned a pair of 3-pointers just over 5 minutes into the games, spotting the Cougars to an early 13-6 advantage, and her free throws with less than 2 seconds left in the period capped a 23-11 run that pushed Azusa Pacific’s halftime lead to 40-21.
“A win’s a win – you have to take it when you can get it, but we can play a lot better than we showed tonight,” said Shipp. “The rivalry can be a lot of fun, but we just needed to stay focused on getting the win without getting too caught up in the atmosphere.”
The Cougars maintained a double-digit lead for all but the final minute of the game, when Elisa Paty nailed the first of 3 Eagle treys in a 30-second span that pulled Biola to within 73-68 with 30 seconds to play. Johnson knocked down 4-of-4 free throws before Megann Alberts layup as time expired provided for the final 7-point margin.
“We didn’t play with much of a killer instinct,” said Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman, after experiencing the Azusa Pacific-Biola rivalry first-hand for the first time. “It might have been a bit of a distraction to be playing in front of so many people. We don’t prepare or plan any different for this game, but the emotions are different. Sometimes those can keep you from focusing as well as you’d like to.”
Alberts scored a game-high 25 points and pulled down a team-high 9 rebounds for Biola, and she was joined in double figures by England, who scored 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range.
Freshman guard Michelle Byrd also finished in double figures, scoring 12 points to go with game-highs of 8 assists and 4 steals. Senior guard Sarah Leathers and junior forward Nikita Gordon also chipped in with 8 points apiece.
With the win, Azusa Pacific wraps up the first half of the Golden State Athletic Conference schedule tied for the conference lead, improving to 17-3 overall, 9-1 GSAC. Biola has now dropped 9 of its past 10 games, with a 5-14 overall mark, 2-8 GSAC.
The Cougars visit one of the other 1-loss teams in the conference, taking on No. 6-ranked Point Loma Nazarene Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in San Diego.