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Published
March 2, 2009
By
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior center Kristie Hala’ufia hadn’t forgotten her 6-point, 6-rebound performance the last time Azusa Pacific played Westmont, and she tallied game-highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds to lead the No. 19-ranked Cougars to a 76-55 win over No. 17-ranked Westmont in Monday’s Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season finale.

With just under 8 minutes to play, Azusa Pacific exploded for a 15-0 run that turned an 8-point advantage into the Cougars’ largest lead of the game at 74-51 with 1:45 remaining. Sophomore forward Alex Moore-Porter scored 7 of her 19 points during the run, and she also posted a double-double with a 12-rebound effort.

The victory gave Azusa Pacific a 1-game margin over the fifth-place tie between Biola and The Master’s in the final GSAC standings, and the Cougars will now host the tournament’s fifth-seeded Biola Wednesday night in the first round of the conference postseason tournament. For the first time in the history of the GSAC Tournament, a coaches’ vote was required to break the tie for fifth place when all other tiebreaking criteria could not break the tie between the teams.

Azusa Pacific now enters the postseason having outscored its opponents by a 103-point margin (297-194) over the final 145 minutes of regular-season play (7 halves and 1 5-minute overtime period). Within that stretch, the Cougars have taken on 2 NAIA Top 20-ranked opponents – Westmont and No. 2-ranked Vanguard.

In Azusa Pacific’s Jan. 27 visit to Westmont, Hala’ufia was 2-for-8 from the field for 6 points, her lowest scoring output in a game where she played more than 20 minutes, and she grabbed just 6 rebounds in 27 minutes in a 72-67 loss to the Warriors. By the time she had taken 8 shots from the field in Monday night’s matchup, she had already collected a double-double, reaching 13 points with her eighth shot attempt. Her bucket gave the Cougars a 33-18 lead with 6:27 remaining in the first half, and she had already collected 10 rebounds by that point.

Hala’ufia finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the first half alone, leading the Cougars to a 38-25 halftime advantage. Azusa Pacific posted a 24-14 rebounding edge in the opening half, and Hala’ufia’s post presence helped draw Westmont starting center Alisha Heglund into 4 first-half fouls that ended up limiting her to just 15 total minutes of action in the game.

After the teams traded baskets to open the second half, Westmont used a 14-5 run to cut the Cougar lead to 6 points at 47-41 with 13:47 left in the game. Moore-Porter scored 2 of her 15 second-half points to answer the rally, and Azusa Pacific maintained at least an 8-point lead up to the 8:07 mark when Amber Stevens converted a 3-point play to pull the Warriors to within 59-51.

Sophomore guard C.J. Hill drilled a 3-pointer with 7:42 to play, sparking the 15-point burst that put the game away. Westmont’s only field goal in the final 8:07 came with 12 seconds remaining. Azusa Pacific forced 5 Warrior turnovers during the run, all on steals, and Westmont missed all 6 of its shots during the 7-minute stretch.

Sophomore guard Michelle Byrd added 12 points and 3 steals, and freshman guard Briana Hall added 8 points, 3 steals and a game-high 8 assists. Hall came up with steals on consecutive possessions during the Cougars’ 15-0 second-half run.

Jessica Case registered Westmont’s team scoring high with 12 points, and Amber Stevens added 10 point and a game-high 4 steals for the Warriors, who finish the regular season 21-7 overall, 13-7 GSAC. Westmont is the GSAC Tournament’s No. 3 seed and will host sixth-seeded The Master’s in Wednesday’s first round.

The victory lifts Azusa Pacific to a final regular-season record of 21-9 overall and 12-8 in GSAC play, its sixth consecutive top-4 conference finish. The Cougars’ GSAC Tournament first-round home game against fifth-seeded Biola will tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Felix Event Center.