AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific defeated Fresno Pacific at the Felix Event Center Tuesday night, 75-65, winning its 11th straight to sustain a 1-game lead for first place in the Golden State Athletic Conference. Sophomore forward Amber Williams led the way, scoring a career-high 22 points with 8 rebounds to shatter her previous career high of 16 points set a year ago during her freshman season.
“I felt like I was getting ready to score before I got the ball,” said Williams, who sank 8-of-10 shots from the field and converted 6-of-8 free throws. “I was more connected with my teammates, and we just had that chemistry. They knew what I was doing, and I knew what they were doing.”
Neither team led by more than 6 points through the majority of the first half, but over the final 4-plus minutes the Cougars went on an 11-2 run that was capped off by junior guard C.J. Hill’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the period for a 34-24 halftime lead.
“We knew we needed to be more intense,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “It’s not something that’s easily turned on and off, but at that point, we realized Fresno Pacific was here to play. We realized we needed to match their intensity.”
Azusa Pacific used that first-half momentum to open the second half with a 27-13 run that gave the Cougars their largest lead of the game at 61-37 with 10:45 left in the game. The Cougars pounded the ball inside the paint, and Williams was the primary beneficiary, scoring 11 of her 22 points during the run. Azusa Pacific finished with a commanding 38-14 margin on points in the paint.
Fresno Pacific doubled its first-half shooting percentage (.235) with a 47 percent (15-for-32) effort from the field in the second half. The Sunbirds closed the deficit with an 11-1 run in the final 3 minutes to get within 9 points at 72-63 with 38 seconds remaining. However, junior guard Jessica Raber and sophomore guard Cherie Hughes combined for 3 free throws in the final 30 seconds to provide the final 10-point margin.
Sunbird forward Jessica Torrecillas scored a team-high 18 points as she shot 50 percent (7-14) from the field and had 5 rebounds.
Hill sank 3-of-7 from 3-point land, finishing with a total of 12 points, and junior forward Alex Moore-Porter was the third Cougar in double figures with an 11-point, 9-rebound effort. Junior center Kristie Hala'ufia crashed the boards and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds to lead Azusa Pacific to a 57-40 advantage on the boards.
“There were some good individual efforts all around, but I just don’t think we played with the intensity that we could have,” Hardeman said. “All in all, we did what we had to do tonight to come out with a win.”
Azusa Pacific overcame a chilly first-half shooting performance of 33 percent (12-pf-36) from the field that included a 20 percent (2-of-10) clip from beyond the 3-point arc. The Cougars improved to 41 percent (14-of-34) in the second half overall, hitting 4-of-10 3-pointers after halftime.
Azusa Pacific improves to 22-4 overall and 15-1 in GSAC play, while Fresno Pacific falls to 6-20 overall, 3-13 GSAC. The Cougars sustain their 1-game lead in the GSAC over the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Vanguard, which Azusa Pacific will visit on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. in Costa Mesa.