AZUSA, Calif. -- If the game’s on the line, Alex Moore-Porter wants the ball in her hands. The junior forward delivered a career-high 34 points that included the game-winning free throws, but it was the sure-handed steal by sophomore center Amber Williams that secured an 81-79 victory for the NAIA’s No. 12-ranked Azusa Pacific over Concordia Saturday night at the Felix Event Center.
Moore-Porter swished a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left to give the Cougars an 80-79 lead, and Azusa Pacific’s defense suffocated the Eagles on the ensuing possession. Williams slipped underneath Lindsey Kingsland, the intended target of an entry pass, for her second steal of the game, and she immediately got the ball right back into the hands of Moore-Porter, who was fouled with six-tenths of a second remaining.
“There was pressure on us, but I think it focused us,” said Williams, who finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block in 18 minutes of action off the bench. “The main thing we felt was that we weren’t going to let them score. I did the best I could, but everyone else contributed. I wouldn’t have gotten that steal if the defender on the ball and all the other defenders weren’t giving the same kind of effort. I didn’t have to do it alone.”
Moore-Porter made the front end of a pair of free throws before intentionally drawing iron on the second to bleed the clock and seal the final 2-point margin. Williams.
“As a captain and a leader on this team, you need to be able to put yourself in situations that require confidence,” Moore-Porter said. “We practice those types of free throw situations under pressure, and I think the team has faith in me doing that. When it’s pressure time, I want the ball in my hands – that’s my job.”
Moore-Porter’s 34-point outburst was the largest individual scoring performance in 3 seasons, but the Cougars’ third straight Golden State Athletic Conference victory had more than its share of contributions that don’t usually grab the headlines. Williams and junior center Kristel Eddington each grabbed 4 offensive rebounds that contributed to Azusa Pacific’s 20-10 edge in second-chance points, and sophomore point guard Briana Hall posted a career-high 8 steals to lead a defense that forced 21 Concordia turnovers.
“It was just a typical GSAC game,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “With 20 seconds to go, neither bench knows whether they’re going to be happy or sad after those 20 seconds are up. There was great effort from both teams, and I was just proud that we were able to defend our home court.”
Azusa Pacific faced its largest deficit of the game with 13:17 to play, trailing 59-50 after a Patrice Hunter 3-pointer. However, 4 different Cougars scored baskets in an 8-0 run, part of a 3-minute stretch when Concordia went scoreless in its next 5 possessions over 3 full minutes. Hall and junior guard Michelle Byrd each had a steal during the run, and Williams, Hall and Moore-Porter each grabbed defensive rebounds of Eagle misses on the other 3 trips down the floor.
“There’s definitely a sense of urgency in a league game, especially when we were down by 9 points,” Moore-Porter said. “I knew that if we got stops first, that the offense would come. It was really defensive urgency more than it was us trying to score. It was time to stop them, because they were having a field day up to that point.”
Neither team led by more than 5 points over the final 10 minutes, with the final major swing in momentum coming in the form of a 12-3 Azusa Pacific run that erased Concordia’s 5-point lead and gave the Cougars a 4-point cushion at 70-66 with 4:28 to play. Moore-Porter scored 6 points in the run, and for 5-plus minutes, the Eagles’ only scoring came on 3 free throws. Concordia tied the game at 74-74 on a Hunter trey with 2:50 remaining and regained the lead in the final minute, 79-78, when a Nicole Fu 3-pointer was followed by a Kingsland layup. Moore-Porter missed in the key on the Cougars’ ensuing possession, but she got the ball right back with a steal and was fouled, sending her to the line for the game-winning free throws with 25 seconds remaining.
After a 5-turnover first half, Hall didn’t turn the ball over once after halftime, and the Cougars surrendered the ball just twice on turnovers in the second half after an 11-giveaway opening period. Hall registered double-digits for the fifth time in the past 6 games, orchestrating Azusa Pacific’s offense with a 17-point, 7-assist performance.
“Briana is starting to mature as a point guard, and it’s exciting to see her develop,” Hardeman said. “She’s had a couple of really solid games for us now, and I know she’s going to continue to get better.”
Junior guard C.J. Hill tossed in 13 points, including a running floater through the lane as time expired in the first half that trimmed the Cougars’ halftime deficit to just 3 points at 43-40.
Concordia, which entered the game as a 36-percent 3-point shooting team, canned 11-of-19 treys (58 percent), led by Nicole Fu’s 4-of-7 long-range performance for a career-high 21 points. The Eagles erased a 6-point first-half deficit, Azusa Pacific’s largest lead of the game, in a span of less than 4 minutes with a 17-5 run that included a trio of 3-pointers and resulted in a 30-24 Concordia lead with 7:16 left in the half. To answer, Moore-Porter and Hall drilled back-to-back treys, and Moore-Porter capped the 8-0 run with 2 of her 15 first-half points.
With the win, its seventh in 8 games, Azusa Pacific remains 1 of the GSAC’s 2 unbeatens 3 games into the 20-game conference schedule, improving to 10-3 overall. Concordia drops to 8-3 overall, 1-2 in GSAC play. The Cougars are back in action on Tuesday, Jan. 5, when they host Biola at 5:30 p.m.