AZUSA, Calif. – The NAIA’s No. 20-ranked Azusa Pacific scored 16 consecutive points in a 6-minute span to run down Concordia University and then run away from the Eagles for an 89-79 Golden State Athletic Conference victory Friday night in the Felix Event Center.
The Cougars rallied from 9 down with less than 9 minutes left in the game in an odd twist of fate for a team that has suffered 3 GSAC losses with fatal late-game collapses, including one earlier this week at Westmont.
This time, however, it was the Cougars who rattled the foe down the stretch in a 12-possession span, forcing Concordia to miss 7 straight shots, 2 of which were blocked, and commit 5 turnovers, all of which allowed Azusa Pacific to roll back into the game and then roll right by Concordia.
Concordia led 72-66 with 7 minutes left in the game when Azusa Pacific poured in 16 straight points to assume a comfortable 84-72 lead with just 83 ticks left on the clock.
Junior center Kristie Hala’ufia and sophomore guard Michelle Byrd combined for 10 points in the Cougars’ game-turning run, each on their way to career nights. Hala’fuia finished with a career-high 29, including 17 in the second half, and Bryd tallied a personal-best 16 points, many of which came off her game-high 5 steals.
Hala’ufia endured a frustrating first half in which she missed 9-of-12 shots, many of which were relatively uncontested lay-ups, but she rallied with a strong second half to lead Azusa Pacific back for its third win in the past 4 games.
“I was pleased with how Kristie handled the first half,” said Cougar coach T.J. Hardeman. “She didn’t get discouraged or hang her head. She is our leader and knows that she can’t go away. I told her that we’d keep coming to her and she responded.”
At the outset, the Cougars had trouble keeping pace with a torrid set of Eagles, who scored 68 points in the first 30 minutes of the game. No player was hotter than Eagle forward Priscilla Angeloni, who drained 10-of-11 shots and seemingly had an answer for every Cougar basket. At one point, Angeloni made 5 straight shots, including a 3-pointer, to turn a 44-42 Concordia lead into a 68-59 advantage with 9 minutes left in the game
Byrd, Azusa Pacific’s designated stopper, switched defensive assignments at that point and took on Angeloni, shutting her down over the final 7 minutes while forcing a pair of turnovers.
“I was thinking maybe I should guard her,” said Byrd. “I had to stop her, get her out of the flow of their offense and contain her. I know my role on this team and try to play it to the fullest.”
With no Angeloni to gun the Eagle offense, Azusa Pacific rallied to post its eighth straight win over Concordia
Sophomore Alex Moore-Porter recorded her second double-double of the week with 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Her put-back of a Hala’ufia miss with 5:40 left in the game gave Azusa Pacific a 74-72 lead, the Cougars’ first advantage since 6 minutes left in the first half.
Sophomore guard C.J. Hill chipped in 15 points to go along with a game-high 5 assists and 4 steals.
Concordia led 38-36 at halftime, using a 15-3 run in the later half of the frame to open up an 8-point lead, one of several such margin the Eagles enjoyed in the second half. Moore-Porter, though, made 3 straight shots to get the Cougars back to within a deuce by the break.
“This was a total team effort,” said Hardeman. “We were 1 point away from having all 5 starters score in double figures, and we needed that kind of play to get back into the game and win it.”
The Cougars committed a season-low 10 turnovers, while forcing 19 on Concordia, 13 of which came by way of a Cougar steal.
With the win, Azusa Pacific moves to 15-6 on the season, 6-5 in the GSAC, while Concordia falls to 11-8 overall, 4-7 in the GSAC.