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Cougars Need Some Closure

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January 17, 2009
Joe Reinsch
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COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 14-ranked Azusa Pacific gave No. 2-ranked and defending NAIA champion Vanguard all it could handle on its home court, but a 20-4 run midway through the second half gave the Lions enough cushion to hang on for a 78-71 victory Saturday night.

Sophomore forward Alex Moore-Porter scored a game-high 21 points and junior center Kristie Hala’ufia added 17 points, while each led all rebounders with 10 boards to lead Azusa Pacific to a dominant 43-28 rebounding edge. However, Vanguard forced 21 Cougar turnovers and shot 7-of-12 from 3-point range in the second half to pull away for the win, its narrowest of the season at home after blasting its first 3 GSAC opponents at The Pit by an average margin of 27 points.

Moore-Porter broke the game’s eight tie with back-to-back buckets for a 46-42 lead, but Bridgette Reyes scored 7 straight Vanguard points in the midst of a 20-4 run, including 1 of 4 Lions treys in the run. Jaclyn Blied knocked down 2 from long range, capping the run with a 3-point bomb that gave Vanguard its largest lead of the game at 62-50 with 8:29 remaining. Sophomore guard Michelle Byrd answered with a pair of free throws and a trey in a 7-0 run that pulled the Cougars to within 5 at 62-57, but Vanguard pushed the lead back to 12 with 3 minutes remaining on a Lauren Gregory jumper.

Byrd nearly came up with a third individual double-double for Azusa Pacific, finishing with 11 points and 9 rebounds, crashing the glass for 6 offensive boards. Sophomore guard C.J. Hill helped spot the Cougars a 35-32 halftime lead by scoring 10 of her 14 points in the opening half, and freshman point guard Briana Hall dished out a game-high assists.

Hill drilled all 3 of her first-half 3-point attempts, getting the Cougars a quick lead with a pair of treys in the first 2 minutes of the game, and she erased Azusa Pacific’s first deficit with another 3-ball near the midway point of the first half. The Cougars answered all 3 of its first-half deficits, using an 8-0 run capped by Hall’s 3-pointer with 4:28 left in the period that pushed Azusa Pacific to a 30-23 advantage, its largest lead of the game.

Vanguard’s offense was paced by Diana Neves, who scored a team-high 17 points despite a 5-for-14 shooting effort. Gregory added 16 points, and Reyes contributed 14 points and a team-high 5 assists in 23 minutes of action off the Lions bench.

With the loss, Azusa Pacific has now dropped 3 of its past 4 GSAC games, all to NAIA-ranked foes, and at 3-4 in GSAC play and 12-5 overall, the Cougars fall into a 4-way tie for sixth in the conference standings. Vanguard remains unbeaten in 7 GSAC contests and improves to 14-2 overall.

Azusa Pacific embarks on a 4-game stretch of unranked opponents beginning next Tuesday, Jan.20, when it hosts Hope International at 5:30 p.m.