AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior forward Alex Moore-Porter’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8 seconds remaining in overtime capped a milestone night for her with a crucial Golden State Athletic victory for her team, as the NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific expanded its conference lead to a full game with Saturday’s 81-80 overtime win over No. 5-ranked Point Loma Nazarene.
“That’s my role, to hit those shots,” Moore-Porter said. “When I’m in a position to shoot when the game is on the line, as a leader and a captain, that’s my role to make that shot. I practice them all the time, but still, the moment of hitting the shot is always wonderful. I don’t take it for granted, those are great shots to make.”
Moore-Porter scored 21 points, scoring her 1,000th career point on a layup created by a C.J. Hill dish from to tie the game at 70-70 in the final 2 minutes of regulation and set the stage for her overtime game-winner. She is the 18th player in Azusa Pacific history to score 1,000 career points, but she is the only one to do so in just 2 seasons.
In the final minute of regulation, junior guard Michelle Byrd got into the paint for the go-ahead layup with 45 seconds left, but Colleen Planeta nailed a difficult baseline jumper with 29 seconds remaining to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Cougars never led in overtime until Moore-Porter’s trey, and the Cougars led for less than 30 seconds over the final 12-and-a-half minutes of play.
“If you had come to our game an hour and a half before tipoff, you would see her making about 50 of those, and if you were at our practice every day, you’d see her working on that shot,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “She works so hard to put herself in position to be successful when she gets into those spots in the game, and she has the confidence to make that shot.”
Point Loma Nazarene’s Liah Ector scored the Sea Lions’ final 6 points, giving her team 2-point leads 3 times in the last 3 minutes of overtime. Byrd’s 8-foot baseline jumper tied the game at 76-76 with 2:50 remaining, and junior center Kristie Hala’ufia did the same to pull even at 78-78 with 1:20 to play. After Moore-Porter’s go-ahead 3-pointer, Point Loma Nazarene barely got past midcourt against the Azusa Pacific press before passing the ball out of bounds near midcourt for a game-clinching turnover with six-tenths of a second left on the clock.
“We talked about trying to penetrate and get the ball inside first and then find our shooters outside,” said Hardeman, in reference to the play he called for the Cougars’ final possession. “We also had Briana Hall and C.J. Hill spotted up so we felt pretty good about any of those options. We were okay with shooting the 3 in that situation, because we’d been dominating the boards all game. We wanted to take a shot at ending it right there, and we were obviously happy with the way it turned out.”
Moore-Porter scored 15 of her 21 points after halftime and also collected 8 rebounds, and Hala’ufia, another Azusa Pacific 1,000-point club member, posted a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double to lead the Cougars to a commanding 53-32 rebounding margin.
“We knew rebounding was going to be a key to winning this game,” Hala’ufia said. “We have good offensive rebounders and guards that do a good job of crashing. We knew if we were able to keep (Planeta) off the boards we would have the advantage there.”
Sophomore point guard Briana Hall added 17 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists, and Hill turned in an outstanding all-around performance with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals against just a single turnover.
Planeta made 12-of-21 shots, including a first-half 3-pointer, to finish with a game-high 26 points, and Ector contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds for her third double-double of the season.
Azusa Pacific staggered into halftime shooting just 37 percent (10-for-27) from the field and facing a 43-32 deficit heading into the second half. However, the Cougars scored 17 of the first 22 points after halftime, including a 10-0 run that started with 3 consecutive Moore-Porter layups and put Azusa Pacific on top, 49-48, with 14:20 remaining, its first lead since the first 3 minutes of the game. Amanda Franz hit back-to-back 3-pointers to stall the rally, but Hill buried a trey in the middle of another run of 9 straight points that put the Cougars up, 58-54, with 10:03 left.
“Coach lit a fire under us at halftime because we came out there with no energy,” Moore-Porter said. “When you play like that, good teams will pick you apart. Lucky for us, we were motivated to come out stronger in the second half. As good of a team as we are, we’d be phenomenal if we played both halves with as much intensity as the second half and overtime, and that’s something we need to work on.”
After a Hill putback with 8:46 to play pushed the score to 62-58, Point Loma Nazarene captured the momentum as Planeta scored 6 points in a 10-0 run that gave the Sea Lions a 68-62 advantage with 5:02 remaining. Hala’ufia immediately answered with a jumper, and after 2 minutes of scoreless play, Moore-Porter cleaned up a blocked shot in the paint for another bucket that pulled the Cougars to within 68-66 with 2:24 to play. Both teams scored on their ensuing trips down the floor, setting up Moore-Porter’s milestone bucket with 1:29 left in regulation.
“When you play to decide who’s going to be in first place in the league, you know it’s not going to be easy,” Hardeman said. “We feel great about winning, but we’re not satisfied. We’re playing a 20-game league schedule where this game is just as important as any other game.”
With wins over a pair of NAIA Top 20 teams this week, the Cougars are 21-4 overall, 14-1 in GSAC play, and now lead No. 3-ranked Vanguard by a full game in the league standings with 5 GSAC contests remaining. One of those 5 games is next Saturday’s visit to Vanguard, which has not lost a conference home game since 2008, is 55-2 at home in GSAC play over the past 6 seasons and has won all 7 of its GSAC home games this season by at least 15 points with an average margin of victory of over 26 points.
Point Loma Nazarene drops to 22-3 overall, 13-3 GSAC.
Azusa Pacific returns to action when it hosts Fresno Pacific on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 5:30 p.m. in the Felix Event Center.