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Published
February 12, 2008
By
Joe Reinsch
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FULLERTON, Calif. -- The best 5 minutes of Azusa Pacific’s 79-65 win over Hope International almost never happened Tuesday evening, but the NAIA’s No. 6-ranked Cougars were able to slink into overtime before blowing away the unranked Royals with an 18-4 run in the extra period.

Azusa Pacific was lucky to even have a second chance after frittering away 40 minutes of regulation. Senior forward Abby Johnson knocked down 2 free throws with 1:40 left in regulation to give the Cougars a 61-58 lead, but Hope International’s Jasmine Nault went back to the line just 14 seconds later with a chance to pull the Royals to within a point. After making the first, she missed what turned out to be a huge opportunity, as the Cougars were unable to score on their ensuing possession.

Instead of moving Hope International back into the lead in the final minute, Stephanie Wenke’s jumper with 14 seconds to play merely tied the contest at 61-61. Azusa Pacific’s inability to get a shot up in the final 11 seconds, even after head coach T.J. Hardeman called a timeout to organize the offense, sent the game to the extra period.

Wenke scored the first points of overtime, giving Hope International a 63-61 lead with 4:20 remaining, but sophomore center Kristie Hala’ufia answered off the glass deep in the post to tie the game at 63-63 with 4:03 to play. When the Cougars got the ball back, senior guard Sarah Leathers drilled a 3-pointer from the left side, her first and only trey of the game, and Azusa Pacific was off to an 18-2 run to finish the game. The Cougars made 13-of-14 free throws in the final 3 minutes to seal the win.

Hope International led by as many as 11 points following a pair of Nault free throws gave the Royals a 19-8 lead with 12:49 remaining in the first half. The Cougars responded with a 17-4 run, taking a 25-23 lead on 2 of junior forward Nikita Gordon’s 10 first-half points with 5 minutes left in the period. Hope International knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes to take a 35-31 advantage into halftime.

Johnson finished with a team-high 19 points, and she was joined in double figures by 4 other Cougars. Freshman guard C.J. Hill tallied a career-high 18 points and Gordon added 14 points. Freshman guard Michelle Byrd registered 12 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals, and Hala’ufia added 11 points and a game-high 8 rebounds.

Wenke was 10-of-14 from the field for a game-high 22 points, and Nault added 18 points and 7 rebounds for the Royals.

With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 19-5 overall, 11-3 GSAC, while Hope International drops to 14-12 overall, 5-9 GSAC. The Cougars continue conference play Thursday evening when they host San Diego Christian in a 5:30 p.m. contest.