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Balancing Act

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Published
February 26, 2009
By
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 19-ranked Azusa Pacific accomplished everything it wanted to, clinching at least a share of fourth place in the Golden State Athletic Conference with 1 conference game remaining after an 83-46 victory over San Diego Christian Thursday.

The Cougars attacked every phase of the game with a sense of purpose, and the results were staggering. Shooting percentage, rebounds, turnovers, assists – you name it, and Azusa Pacific controlled it Thursday night. Six different Cougars scored baskets in a game-opening 17-2 run, and sophomore guard Jessica Raber converted a rare 4-point play when she was fouled while making a 3-pointer with 6:42 left in the first half. Junior center Kristie Hala’ufia scored in the paint on the Cougars’ next possession, setting off a 20-2 run that gave Azusa Pacific a 45-12 lead with 1:54 remaining in the opening half.

“In this league, you never know,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “Anybody is capable of winning or losing on any night, so we were pleased to see a good focus from the start. We established the level we wanted to play at.”

Sophomore forward Alex Moore-Porter completed a 3-point play with 10 seconds left before halftime to send the Cougars into the break with a 51-16 lead, the beginning of a 16-3 run that lasted through the first 8 minutes of the second half. Moore-Porter finished the run with the last of her game-high 16 points, giving Azusa Pacific its largest lead of the game at 64-19 with 12:17 to play.

Hala’ufia added 15 points and 8 rebounds, and sophomore guard C.J. Hill added 14 points, 4 assists and 3 steals for the Cougars. For the second straight game, freshman center Amber Williams logged a new season-high in minutes played, this time patrolling the paint for 26 minutes in an 8-point, 10-rebound performance, her first career double-digit rebounding effort.

Ever since staring down an 18-point halftime deficit last Saturday against defending NAIA champion Vanguard, Azusa Pacific has outscored its opponents over the last 5 halves (and a 5-minute overtime period) by an 82-point margin, 221-139.

“Rather than thinking we could just show up and beat San Diego Christian or Hope International this week, we really wanted to use these games to get better in what we do,” Hardeman said. “I was really pleased that we were able to stay focused, work on what we wanted to do defensively and execute offensively. From here on out, all the teams we play are going to be really strong, but we’re more than capable of beating anyone we play.”

San Diego Christian put together its first unanswered baskets of the game 32 minutes into the contest, putting together 7 baskets without a Cougar response for a 17-0 run that chopped the lead from 45 points to 28 at 64-36 with 8:28 to play. Dorchella James scored the first and last buckets in the run, and she finished with 15 points and a team-high 9 rebounds for the Hawks. Lexi Fowler, who hit back-to-back treys in the run and finished 5-of-11 from 3-point range, finished with a team-high 16 points for San Diego Christian, which drops to 4-22 overall, 1-17 GSAC.

The victory gives Azusa Pacific, now 20-9 overall and 11-8 in GSAC play, its program-record sixth consecutive 20-win season, and it puts the Cougars in position to clinch home-court advantage in a GSAC Postseason Tournament first-round contest with a victory Monday night at home against Westmont.

“We have our destiny in our hands,” said Hardeman, “but it’s going to come down to how well we play. It’s important to get on a roll. This time of the year, the teams that do well are the teams that are hot, the teams that are feeling good about themselves.”

A variety of conference tiebreaking scenarios are still in play as 4 teams currently stand at 9-9 in conference play, but if California Baptist, Point Loma Nazarene, and Concordia all win on Saturday night, Azusa Pacific would clinch sole possession of fourth place and be guaranteed to host the fifth-place finisher in next Wednesday’s GSAC Tournament first-round contest.