AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Azusa Pacific shook off a disappointing first 20 minutes of its 2008 home opener with an impressive 6-minute outburst to start the second half, erasing a 15-point halftime deficit with a 21-2 run in an 87-79 victory over California Baptist in the Cougars’ Golden State Athletic Conference opener Saturday night.
Azusa Pacific’s resurgence was led by a quartet of players who combined for 51 of Azusa Pacific’s 57 second-half points. In addition, the Cougars dominated the paint, out-rebounding the Lancers 53-39 behind double-digit rebounding efforts from junior center Kristie Hala’ufia and sophomore forward Alex Moore-Porter.
“We wanted to make Cal Baptist take its time and allow them just one shot,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “They did a great job of getting shots in the first half, and we rushed our shots. We were more focused in the second half and made sure our post players got touches.”
Azusa Pacific’s 53 rebounds marked a season-high, and Hala’ufia and Moore-Porter each recorded double-doubles to lead the Cougar effort. Hala’ufia scored 19 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds while Moore-Porter tallied 19 points and 15 rebounds.
California Baptist’s NAIA All-American guard Nicole Davis scored 22 of her 26 points in the first half, hitting 5 3-pointers in the period to help the Lancers take a 45-30 halftime lead. The Lancers scored 20 of their 45 points in the half off Azusa Pacific’s 12 turnovers.
After the half, Azusa Pacific emerged as a different team. After Davis sank 2 free throws on the opening second-half possession for California Baptist, the Cougars went on a 21-2 run over the next 7 minutes to take a 51-49 lead with 13:24 remaining in the game. Azusa Pacific trailed for just 40 seconds after that point, taking the lead for good at 61-50 on a Hala’ufia layup with 9:15 to go. The Cougars buried California Baptist in the final 4 minutes with a 16-5 run that resulted in Azusa Pacific’s largest lead of the game at 87-73 with 23 seconds left before the Lancers knocked down a pair of treys in the closing seconds to cut the final margin to single digits.
“The difference between the two halves was definitely effort,” Hala’ufia said. “In the first half, we were not shutting who we needed to shut down. Their post players work hard all the time, so we knew we had to put a body on them to get the rebounds we needed.”
Sophomore guard Michelle Byrd nabbed a career-high 7 steals, including 5 in the second half, and added 9 points and 7 rebounds for the Cougars, who shot 56 percent (19-for-34) in the second half after a 35 percent first-half effort. Sophomore guard C.J. Hill scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half, and freshman point guard Briana Hall added season-highs of 16 points and 8 rebounds to go with her game-high 7 assists.
“I have been looking forward to this game all summer and I was excited to play my first home game at Azusa Pacific,” said Hall, 1 of 5 freshmen on a Cougar squad that is without any seniors this season. “After playing together for a month now, we’re now starting to read each other more, we know each other’s positions, and we’re playing more like a team.”
Azusa Pacific confronted a similar second-half deficit the last time it faced California Baptist, trailing the Lancers by 19 points in last season’s GSAC Tournament quarterfinal in a 73-62 defeat. In that contest, the Cougars pulled within 2 points before the comeback faltered.
With the win, Azusa Pacific advances to 7-1, 1-0 in GSAC, and California Baptist drops to 4-3, 1-1 in GSAC. The Cougars travel to Santa Clarita on Friday, Dec. 12, to visit the NAIA’s No. 24-ranked The Master’s College, which is also 1-0 in GSAC through the first week of conference play.