AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific stunned the NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Vanguard with a dizzying flurry of first-half 3-pointers, and junior center Kristie Hala’ufia punished the Lions inside in the second half. Hala’ufia’s 28-point, 10-rebound double-double led the No. 12-ranked Cougars to a 101-92 victory Saturday night at the Felix Event Center, making Azusa Pacific the first Golden State Athletic Conference team in nearly 20 years to score 100 points on Vanguard, winner of 9 conference titles since 1998.
“We focused on getting the ball inside first, and they had to focus on getting inside to stop us there,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “We have some good 3-point shooters who shot with confidence. Once we got a lead, we didn’t want to fall in love with the 3 unless it was there. They made some great adjustments to it, like Vanguard always does, but I thought tonight the key for us was our own adjustments after they adjusted to us.”
The last time a Lions team surrendered 100 points was a 103-44 defeat on Feb. 12, 1991, at California Baptist. The Cougars also snapped streaks of 11 straight losses to Vanguard, as well as a 7-game home losing streak to the Lions, who are averaging 91 points in their last 6 visits to the Felix Event Center.
Vanguard entered the game as the GSAC’s top scoring and 3-point offense, but it was Azusa Pacific that came out firing on all cylinders to beat the Lions at their own game. The Cougars shot a blistering .625 percentage (10-for-16) from 3-point range in the first half, led by sophomore point guard Briana Hall, who hit 4 first-half treys in as many attempts.
Hall hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions less than 4 minutes into the game, giving Azusa Pacific its first double-digit lead at 18-8. Vanguard never got closer than 8 points the rest of the way until Bridgette Reyes went coast-to-coast after a steal to trim the Cougar lead to 90-84 with 2:52 remaining. Hall answered with a conventional 3-point play, and she nailed a pair of free throws with 42 seconds to play for a 99-89 lead. Junior guard Teri Higgenbottom hit the back end of double-bonus free throws to push Azusa Pacific across the 100-point mark.
Junior forward Alex Moore-Porter and junior guard C.J. Hill each hit 3-pointers during a 13-5 run over the first 6 minutes of the second half, ballooning Azusa Pacific’s 51-42 halftime advantage into a 64-47 lead with 14:09 to play, the Cougars’ largest lead of the game.
Vanguard answered with 8 straight points, but with the Lions defense on shutting down Azusa Pacific’s deadly perimeter shooting, the Cougars salted away the final 12 minutes of the game with a steady diet of easy buckets and free throws. Hala’ufia was the primary beneficiary, scoring 15 of her 18 second-half points in the final 12 minutes and finishing 12-for-20 from the field for a 28-point, 10-rebound double-double. It was her first 20-point effort, and her first double-double, in a GSAC game this season.
“In practice, we’ve been working with her on slowing things down, and she had done a really great job of that in practice the last couple of days,” Hardeman said. “I knew she was going to get a lot of opportunities tonight to catch the ball inside, and she relaxed and did exactly what she had done all week in practice.”
Hala’ufia was 1 of 4 Cougars in double figures, with Hall scoring 19 points with 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals and Hill contributing 18 points with a game-high 7 assists.
“I’ve been struggling, and the coaches know I can do better,” Hala’ufia said. “They put a lot of trust in me, even after I’ve had bad games, and so did our guards. They kept passing the ball to me inside, and it helped set up some open shots outside.”
Moore-Porter added 17 points and 8 rebounds, while junior guard Michelle Byrd turned in an 8-point, 8-rebound performance. Byrd grabbed 6 of the Cougars’ 15 offensive boards, helping Azusa Pacific to a 40-37 rebounding edge. The Cougars also came out on top in the turnover battle, surrendering just 13 turnovers to Vanguard’s 14 giveaways.
“Our guards really handled the pressure well tonight, seeing what they were trying to do to us and reacting to where we knew we wanted to go,” Hardeman said. “That was a huge key for us.”
Bridgette Reyes was the Lions’ leading scorer with a 33-point performance, and Rachel Copeland added 20 points for Vanguard. Diana Neves, who entered the game as the Lions’ second-leading scorer on the year at over 18 points per game, was held scoreless in an 0-for-9 shooting performance.
“It’s hard to defend Vanguard because they put all guards out there who penetrate and create openings,” Hardeman said. “At some point, they’re going to have someone driving who’s quicker than the person guarding them. We tried to hold that off and anticipate where their shooters were, and even though we didn’t do a great job of that, it was good enough.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific takes over sole possession of second place in the GSAC with a 6-1 conference mark, and the Cougars are now 13-4 overall on the year. Both of Vanguard’s losses have come in GSAC play, with the Lions dropping to 9-2 overall and 5-2 in conference play.
Azusa Pacific rounds out the first half of the 20-game conference schedule with 3 more games, visiting Hope International on Tuesday, Jan. 19, before back-to-back home games against San Diego Christian (Jan. 21) and Westmont (Jan. 26).