AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior guard Sarah Leathers scored all 19 of her points in the second half, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers after halftime to help lift the NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific to an 84-69 win over California Baptist Friday evening. Senior forward Abby Johnson was no less impressive, sinking 8-of-10 from the field for a team-high 20 points in what was likely the final game at the Felix Event Center for the Cougar seniors.
Azusa Pacific has clinched a first-round home game against the GSAC’s sixth-place team in the conference tournament next week, but due to a previously-scheduled campus event, that contest will take place on Wednesday, March 5, at Citrus College.
Johnson scored 6 of the first 8 points in the game, part of an 11-0 run over the first 6 minutes, and the Cougars never let up, maintaining at least a 6-point margin the rest of the way. It was exactly the type of wire-to-wire performance Azusa Pacific could use for a strong regular-season finish and some valuable momentum heading into the postseason.
The Cougars finished the half in much the same way it began the period, scoring 9 of the final 13 points, with Johnson’s layup with 11 seconds left sending Azusa Pacific into halftime with a 38-27 lead.
After a scoreless first half in which she attempted just 2 shots, Leathers found her 3-point groove on back-to-back possessions less than 2 minutes into the second half. A Nikita Gordon jumper a minute later gave the Cougars their largest lead to that point at 46-29 with 16:56 remaining in the game, but California Baptist had one big run left in its tank. The Lancers, who made just 2-of-12 first-half 3-pointers, got back-to-back treys from Brenna Hahn and Erin Greenberg to spark a 13-2 run that brought the Lancers back to within 6 points at 48-42 with 15:03 to play.
The Cougars answered a bucket better with a 15-2 run, with Johnson capping the spurt with a conventional 3-point play that pushed the Azusa Pacific lead to its largest of the game at 63-44 with 9:29 to play.
Freshman guard Michelle Byrd picked up a game-high 6 steals, spearheading a Cougar defense that had 11 steals that helped account for California Baptist’s 17 turnovers. Azusa Pacific’s starting backcourt of Leathers, Byrd and freshman C.J. Hill committed just a single turnover combined, and the Cougars surrendered the ball just 8 times, its second-lowest total of the season.
Freshman guard Jessica Raber added 11 points with a 3-pointer in each half. In the 5 games of senior guard Kate Shipp’s injury absence, Raber has emerged as a quality scoring option off the bench, averaging 8 points over the past 5 games, including back-to-back games in double figures.
The Lancers were led by Hahn’s game-high 24 points, but without her 6-of-12 shooting, California Baptist was just 33 percent (14-of-42) from the field. Jeanine Deno was her team’s second-leading scorer with 14 points, but she committed 5 of the Lancers’ 17 turnovers.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 23-6 overall, 15-4 GSAC, while California Baptist drops to 15-11 overall, 9-10 GSAC. The Cougars wrap up the regular season with a Monday night visit to Biola at 5:30 p.m.