AZUSA, Calif. – All-American Alex Moore-Porter is only 3 games into her season after missing the first 6 with an injury, but she is playing like she is in midseason form.
The junior forward posted her second straight double-double and was simply unstoppable in leading the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific to an impressive 95-75 victory over The Master’s College in both teams’ Golden State Athletic Conference opener in the Felix Event Center Tuesday night.
Making her first start of the season, Moore-Porter scored 18 of her season-high 25 points in the first half and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds in 33 minutes of action to lead the Cougars to a surprisingly easy victory over the nationally-respected Mustangs. Azusa Pacific took the lead 3 minutes into the game at 8-5 on a Moore-Porter 3-pointer, the first of 2 that she registered on the evening. She ignited a 10-2 run that put the Cougars up 15-7, and the Mustangs would never get any closer than 4 points the rest of the night.
“There is not a panic in our play when Alex is in the game,” said Azusa Pacific head coach T.J. Hardeman. “Really you don’t have to set things up for her on offense. Just give her the ball and get out of the way. And she was pretty good tonight.”
The Cougar frontcourt of Moore-Porter, Kristie Halaufia and Kristel Eddington dominated a Mustang frontcourt of equal size, combining for 56 points and 19 rebounds while holding their counterparts of Annie Gillespie, Brittany Henderson and Jenna Reed to a combined 16 points on 6-for-18 shooting and 11 rebounds.
“We’re as big as any team anyone will face this year,” said Hardeman. “To have Kristel score 14 off the bench and run big people in and out at any time can be pretty scary to defend, especially if Alex moves out to the 3, which we did a couple of times tonight.”
The 6-foot Reed came in averaging nearly 19 points and 4.6 rebounds, but was held to just 8 points and 1 rebound, and all in the first half while being shutout in 10 minutes of second-half play. The 6-foot-1 Gillespie, who averages 10 points, was completely shut out, going 0-for-3 in 21 minutes while collecting just 2 rebounds.
“For us, it’s all about defense and rebounding and effort,” said Moore-Porter. “We need to be able to say ‘I’m not going to let you set up here, I’m not going to let you score from here, I’m not going to let you rebound from here. It’s going to be a tough day for you.’ And that’s what our interior post players did tonight.”
Azusa Pacific, which enjoyed as much as a 13-point lead in the first half and relied on a Teri Higgenbottom trey and subsequent jumper to maintain a double-digit lead at halftime at 44-34, sustained a comfortable 10- to 14-point advantage through the early moments of the second half. A 13-5 Cougar run in which Briana Hall scored 5 of her season-high 18 points (2 off her career-high) gave Azusa Pacific its first 20-point advantage at 63-43 following a Michelle Byrd lay-up with 13 minutes left in the game.
The Cougars were on fire in the second half, draining 19-of-33 shots (.576) and in an 8-minute stretch made 13-of-16 shots to balloon their lead to the first of a pair of 29-point cushions at 86-57 following a Hall lay-up with 5 minutes remaining. In addition to their torrid touch, the Cougars kept a good handle on the ball, committing just 6 second-half turnovers, a vast improvement for a team that came in averaging over 22 miscues a game.
“We looked like a cohesive team that was trying to set each other up, make each other look better,” said Hardeman.
Hall put together one of the most complete games of her young collegiate career, adding game-highs of 6 assists and 5 steals as well.
“Azusa Pacific is not a paper tiger anymore,” said Moore-Porter. “We have to swallow the losses to Lewis-Clark State, and take it as a team, but I’m back and there’s that chemistry on the team that makes it hard to stop us.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 7-2 overall, 1-0 in the GSAC. The Master’s, which was led by Lena Rivera’s 16 points off the bench, suffers its fourth straight loss to an NAIA Top 10-ranked team and falls to 2-4 overall, 0-1 in conference play.