AZUSA, Calif. -- Sophomore forward Alex Moore-Porter scored 14 of her season-high 22 points in the second half, lifting NAIA Division I No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 68-67 victory over NAIA Division II No. 20 Southern Oregon Monday afternoon.
Moore-Porter knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to crack the 20-point barrier for the second time this year with 3:29 remaining in the game to pull the Cougars even at 61-61, erasing Southern Oregon’s final lead of the game. With 2:01 to play, Moore-Porter’s layup in transition provided the eventual winning margin, pushing Azusa Pacific’s lead back to 3 points at 68-65.
“Offensively, she’s got a nose for the ball,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “She did a good job of going to the hole early and getting by her defender, and she did a good job finding the opening. (Her performance) just makes it hard for teams to guard us, because they were really focused on stopping Kristie. It was nice for Alex to step up and do some nice things for us.”
Whitney Scott’s jumper with a minute to play pulled Southern Oregon to within 68-67, but sophomore guard Michelle Byrd pulled away the offensive rebound on a missed Cougar trey with 32 seconds to play to retain possession. Southern Oregon was forced to foul freshman guard Briana Hall, who missed both free throws to give the Raiders one final opportunity to pull off the upset. A Southern Oregon trey drew iron, but junior center Kristie Hala’ufia tipped the rebound out of bounds with 3.9 seconds left before the Raiders missed a mid-range jumper in the closing seconds.
Hala’ufia, who drew double- and triple-teams from Southern Oregon throughout the game, finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds, but Moore-Porter was the one who keyed an 18-1 run midway through the second half that turned Azusa Pacific’s largest deficit of the game into its biggest lead at 55-46 with 10:15 to play. The Cougars trailed, 45-37, before Moore-Porter nailed a pair of free throws with 14:53 left, and she scored 10 of the 18 points in the run, including the 3-pointer that gave the Cougars their first second-half lead at 48-46 with 12:25 remaining in the game.
“When one of my teammates is getting triple-teamed, I have to step up – that’s just how it is,” Moore-Porter said. “Kristie and I worked together, and she played really unselfish for the team. I just stepped up as her teammate and made sure that I was effective and aggressive offensively.”
The Azusa Pacific defense came up with 14 steals after halftime, and the Cougars held Southern Oregon without a field goal for an 8-minute stretch midway through the second half. The Raiders missed 10 straight shots from the field during the Cougars’ 18-1 run, and at one point turned the ball over on 4 straight possessions while going over 2 minutes without attempting a shot.
“We decided to play defense as a team, and we started playing team offense instead of individual play, and that’s how you beat good teams,” said Moore-Porter, who also committed 7 of Azusa Pacific’s season-high 25 turnovers. “In these games, you need to get the rust off from Christmas break, and that’s what we did. Even though it was sloppy, we played as a team to get through that type of adversity.”
Sophomore guard Michelle Byrd, who registered 10 steals in Azusa Pacific’s last game, a 71-62 win over Cal State Dominguez Hills, finished with 8 steals along with 4 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, giving her 27 steals in the last 4 games.
Moore-Porter, who is 7-of-16 from 3-point range on the season, sank 2 treys in a game for the third time this season.
“The outside shooting is a complement to my inside game,” Moore-Porter said. “More of my perimeter style will start to come out as I get more comfortable with the team and continue to learn the offense. When I see the opportunity, I’ll take it.”
After sophomore guard C.J. Hill made 1-of-2 free throws with 6:47 left in the first half for a 28-27 Azusa Pacific lead, the Cougars made just 1 more basket before halftime. Southern Oregon closed the first half with a 10-3 run but misfired on its final 6 field-goal attempts in a scoreless final 2:56 that sent the game into halftime with the Raiders hanging on to a 37-31 advantage.
“It’s hard after a game like this to see a lot of positives, because we need a lot of work,” Hardeman said. “Come Saturday, we’re back into league games again, and Concordia’s 2-0 in league. We can’t have this kind of performance again – hopefully it’s out of our system.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 9-2 overall heading into tomorrow’s 4 p.m. matchup with Ursuline (Ohio) College, an 83-73 winner over Hope International in Cougar Classic action earlier in the day at the Felix Event Center. Southern Oregon suffers just its second defeat of the season, dropping to 9-2 overall.