SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- Senior guard Sarah Leathers snapped out of her 3-point shooting slump to lead the NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 70-60 road victory over No. 15-ranked The Master’s Tuesday night. Leathers’ 5 triples represented her best shooting performance since the Cougars’ Jan. 22 win over the very same Mustangs, when she nailed 7-of-12 from long range in a career-high 30-point performance.
The senior guard, who has gotten used to carrying the title of Azusa Pacific career 3-point record holder after breaking the mark over a year ago, had been caught up in a 14-for-62 (23 percent) slump from 3-point range over the past 8 games, but she drilled her first long-distance attempt on the game’s opening possession to spot the Cougars a 3-0 lead. Leathers’ next 2 treys came a minute-and-a-half apart to spark a 17-2 run that broke an 18-18 deadlock to give Azusa Pacific its largest lead of the game at 35-20 with 2:36 remaining in the period. She finished with a game-high 19 points, sinking 5-of-10 from 3-point range, along with a game-high 5 steals.
The Master’s, on the other hand, had all sorts of trouble with the 3-ball, misfiring on all 9 of its first-half attempts and its first 5 second-half tries. With just 1:16 left and the outcome virtually wrapped up, Jenni Ritter made the first 3-pointer of the game for The Master’s, cutting the Cougar lead to 59-52. Azusa Pacific scored 6 straight points on free throws over the next 30 seconds before Amanda Durocher knocked down another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 65-55 with 42 seconds remaining.
Senior forward Abby Johnson added 15 points, 6 rebounds and a team-high 6 assists, leading an unselfish Azusa Pacific offense that had 20 assists on 23 made field goals in the contest. Junior forward Nikita Gordon added a solid overall line of 8 points, a team-high 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals, while freshman guard Jessica Raber was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and matched her season-high single-game scoring total with 12 points.
The Cougars led by at least 7 points the entire second half, and it was none other than a Leathers 3-pointer that gave Azusa Pacific its largest lead of the second half at 55-41 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game. The Master’s posted an 11-4 run to cut the lead to 7 on Ritter’s 3-pointer, the first of the game for the Mustangs. It was too little, too late, as Azusa Pacific iced the game with 11 free throws in the final minute of the contest.
The Master’s had just 2 players crack double figures in scoring, let by Stacy Nanninga’s 12-point, 12-rebound double-double. Annie Gillespie added 11 points and 7 rebounds for the Mustangs.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 22-6 overall, 14-4 GSAC, while The Master’s drops to 18-9 oveerall, 10-8 GSAC. The Cougars are locked into a third-place finish in the conference standings and will host a first-round GSAC Tournament game on Wednesday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. Due to a Felix Event Center schedule conflict, the conference tournament contest that evening will be played at a site to be announced before Monday’s GSAC finale at Biola.
The Cougars take on California Baptist on Friday, Feb. 29, the final regular-season home contest for Azusa Pacific. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.