SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific committed 24 turnovers, and the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Point Loma Nazarene took advantage, sending the No. 5-ranked Cougars to a 61-56 defeat that eliminated 1 of 3 teams from a first-place tie atop the Golden State Athletic Conference.
The Sea Lions shot 50 percent (22-for-44) from the field, the second straight opponent Azusa Pacific has allowed to do so after holding its first 19 opponents to no better than 46 percent.
The Cougars led early in the game, taking an 11-5 lead that evaporated in a matter of 4 minutes with a 10-4 Point Loma Nazarene run that tied the game at 15-15. After regaining the lead with a quick 5-point burst, Azusa Pacific went scoreless for nearly 6 minutes, allowing the Sea Lions to start a 15-2 run that gave them their largest lead of the game at 30-22 with just over 2 minutes to play before halftime.
The swing in momentum turned a manageable upset bid into an uphill battle. The Cougars spent the entire second half playing catch-up, twice pulling even in the first 4 minutes after halftime, only to watch Point Loma Nazarene answer with an 8-1 run that pushed the lead back to 43-36 with 13:10 to play. Azusa Pacific got back within 1 point 3 more times over the next 8 minutes, with senior forward Abby Johnson’s 3-point play pulling the Cougars to a 50-49 deficit with 5:37 to play.
On the ensuing Point Loma Nazarene possession, Kerra Sutton-Wodarski missed the back end of a pair of free throws, leaving the window of opportunity ever so slightly open for Azusa Pacific. With 4:38 left, senior guard Sarah Leathers found nothing but net from the left corner for her only 3-pointer of the game, giving the Cougars their first lead since the opening half. Freshman guard C.J. Hill swiped the ball away from Sutton-Wodarski on the Sea Lions’ next possession, finding freshman guard Michelle Byrd for a fast break layup that gave Azusa Pacific a 54-51 lead with 4:19 to play.
When Katie Hilbelink’s 3-pointer missed on the other end, the Cougars were seemingly destined to pull off the victory. However, an offensive foul gave the ball right back to the Sea Lions, who converted their next 5 possessions into points in a 10-2 run that buried Azusa Pacific’s bid for its first season sweep over Point Loma Nazarene since 1993.
Johnson finished with a team-high 14 points, and sophomore center Kristie Hala’ufia tallied 13 points. Byrd finished with 11 points and a game-high 9 rebounds, and junior forward Nikita Gordon was the fourth Cougar in double figures, providing 11 points and 5 rebounds off the bench.
Point Loma Nazarene was led by Colleen Planeta and Angela Manjarrez, who combined for 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, including 3-of-4 3-pointers. Sutton-Wodarski added 11 points.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 17-4 overall, 9-2 in GSAC play, while Point Loma Nazarene improves to 16-2 overall, 10-1 GSAC. The Sea Lions, whose lone conference defeat came in the GSAC opener at Azusa Pacific, remains in a first-place tie with Vanguard. The Cougars return to action with a Tuesday, Feb. 5 visit to Westmont.