AZUSA, Calif. -- Whatever drama was lacking in Azusa Pacific’s Friday night win over California Baptist was made up for by the significance of the NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Cougars taking the court as the Golden State Athletic Conference leader for the first time this season and scoring a convincing 86-69 victory at the Felix Event Center.
Led by a dominant inside presence, an active defense and an unselfish offensive approach, Azusa Pacific reeled off its eighth consecutive win to improve to 12-1 in GSAC play, 19-4 overall to move a full game ahead of second-place Point Loma Nazarene in the conference standings. Juniors Alex Moore-Porter and Kristie Hala’ufia combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds, leading the Cougars to a 42-14 advantage in scoring in the paint. Sophomore point guard Briana Hall grabbed a game-high 7 of Azusa Pacific’s 15 steals, and junior guard C.J. Hill dished out a game-high 9 assists without committing a turnover.
“In the GSAC, you can’t afford to take any game lightly,” Moore-Porter said. “We have just been taking one game at a time, because you can’t afford to look ahead to who you’re playing next week. California Baptist is not a team you can take lightly. Once you’re done with tonight’s game, then you can look ahead to who you’re playing next.”
A Hall 3-pointer with 6:11 remaining in the first half pushed the Cougars in front, 24-22, and sparked a 12-2 run that kept Azusa Pacific ahead for good. The halftime margin was 34-30, and midway through the second half the Cougars put the game away with a 23-5 run that pushed the margin to 66-42 with 6:49 remaining in the game. Thirty seconds later, Hala’ufia answered a Rachel McDaniel layup with her first 3-pointer of the year, giving Azusa Pacific a 25-point advantage (69-44), its largest of the game.
“We knew our strength in this game was going to be inside, and once we established the inside game, then the outside opened up and we were able to attack from both,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “It was a very balanced effort. What our guard combination of C.J. Hill and Briana Hall did tonight – those are the kinds of things that can make you very hard to beat.”
Moore-Porter finished with game-highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds, good for her third double-double in the past 4 games, and Hala’ufia registered 19 points and 8 boards. Five other Cougars scored at least 6 points, including Hill’s 9-point, 9-assist effort and Hall’s 8 points and 7 steals. Azusa Pacific was on the plus side in rebounding for the seventh straight game, carving out a 44-38 edge on the boards, and the Cougars forced 23 Lancer turnovers.
California Baptist, which falls to 11-12 overall and 4-9 GSAC, was led by Brenna Hahn, who scored all of her 21 points in the second half. Kendra Morris was among 3 other Lancers in double-digits, hitting for all 12 of her points on 4-of-7 from 3-point range. Heather Couzens tallied 11 points and with 8 rebounds was California Baptist’s leading rebounder, and McDaniel added 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field.
Azusa Pacific hits a crucial stretch in the conference schedule next week, visiting No. 20-ranked Biola on Tuesday, Feb. 9, before returning home for a rematch with No. 2 Point Loma Nazarene on Saturday, Feb. 13. Point Loma Nazarene handed the Cougars their only conference defeat of the season in their first meeting (Jan. 9). The current 8-game winning streak is the longest in 2 seasons for Azusa Pacific, and it’s the first 8-game conference win streak for the Cougars since the 2007 squad reeled off 9 consecutive GSAC victories.