FRESNO, Calif. -- Life on the road is never easy, but making a habit of giving away possessions makes it even more treacherous, a lesson the NAIA’s No. 18-ranked Azusa Pacific can certainly attest to following a 66-61 defeat at Fresno Pacific, its sixth Golden State Athletic Conference road defeat this season.
The Cougars committed 23 turnovers, 16 of them unforced by a Fresno Pacific defense that came up with just 7 steals in the contest. It was the fifth 20-turnover night in 9 GSAC road trips, and not coincidentally, was the fifth time in those games Azusa Pacific took the loss.
Sophomore guard C.J. Hill nailed 2 free throws with 2:28 remaining to tie the game at 56-56, the seventh tie score of the contest, but the game’s big momentum shift had occurred about 20 minutes earlier when the Cougars surrendered the final 9 points of the first half to turn a 25-20 lead with 4:24 to play in the period into a 4-point halftime deficit at 29-25. On its final 9 possessions of the period, Azusa Pacific committed 6 turnovers, missed both ends of a pair of free throws, missed a layup and misfired from long-range.
The lead changed hands 6 times in the second half, but Azusa Pacific never led by more than a basket, and Samantha Cardeno hit a pair of back-breaking 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to give Fresno Pacific a 62-58 lead with 1:22 to play. The Cougars kept the ensuing possession alive with 3 offensive boards, but all 4 shots were off the mark before Fresno Pacific finally sealed the win with free throws down the stretch.
Hill tied her career scoring high with 20 points, hitting a career-high 5 treys on 13 long-range attempts, and she was joined in double figures by junior center Kristie Hala’ufia (12 points), sophomore forward Alex Moore-Porter (10 points) and freshman guard Briana Hall (10 points). Two of Hill’s 3-pointers gave Azusa Pacific a pair of its 3 short-lived post-halftime leads. Hala’ufia grabbed 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season, and Moore-Porter nabbed a game-high 4 steals.
Fresno Pacific was led by Cardeno’s 17-point, 9-rebound effort off the bench. Bricali Cooley added 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, and Jessica Mazza tossed in another 13 points for the Sunbirds, who made 13-of-26 from the field in the second half to help put the Cougars away.
On a night when it shot just 36 percent (20-for-56) from the field, Azusa Pacific needed to take much better care of each possession. As a result, the Cougars lost a game that could have helped it avoid needing to upset No. 2-ranked Vanguard Saturday to maintain sole possession of fourth place in the GSAC standings. Instead, Azusa Pacific comes off back-to-back 20-turnover outings as it faces a defending national champion that brings a 15-1 conference mark to Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. clash in the Felix Event Center.
The loss drops Azusa Pacific to 18-8 overall, 9-7 GSAC, and Westmont’s last-second 67-66 win over Biola helped the Cougars maintain their 1-game cushion for the fourth-place spot at least until Saturday, when Biola hosts ninth-place Concordia. Fresno Pacific, meanwhile, has posted back-to-back victories to improve to 11-12 overall, 7-9 GSAC, and the Sunbirds now have a 2-game margin over Concordia with 4 games to go for the eighth and final GSAC postseason tournament berth.