JACKSON, Tenn. -- Azusa Pacific trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half to the NAIA’s No. 19-ranked Bethel (Tenn.) Saturday night, but the No. 2-ranked Cougars erased it all by halftime and pulled away late for a 65-53 win for its second win in 3 games at the 3-day Jackson (Tenn.) Rotary Classic.
Senior forward Alex Moore-Porter bounced back from a career-low 7-point performance against top-ranked Union the night before, scoring a game-high 18 points with a team-high 7 rebounds. Senior center Kristie Hala’ufia also reached double figures, sinking 6-of-11 from the field in a 14-point, 4-rebound effort.
Bethel started the game with an 18-5 opening burst over the first 7:30, and the Wildcats still had a 12-point lead at 21-9 with less than 9 minutes to play in the first half. However, Bethel didn’t get another field goal for the next 10 minutes of action, scoring its only point on a free throw during a 21-1 Cougar run that extended into the first 2 minutes of the second half.
Junior point guard Briana Hall hit a pair of free throws with 8:36 left to start the run, and senior guard Jessica Raber hit Azusa Pacific’s only 3-pointer of the game to tie the game at 22-22 with 51 seconds left in the half. Moore-Porter pushed the Cougars’ halftime lead to 26-22 with a 3-point play in the closing seconds of the period. Senior guard C.J. Hill and junior guard Eboni Sadler hit back-to-back baskets for the first 4 points of the second half, giving Azusa Pacific an 8-point lead at 30-22.
Bethel got to within 2 points twice midway through the half, the second time at 36-34 with 12:26 remaining, but Hala’ufia scored the first 4 points of an 11-3 run over the next 4 minutes that extended the lead back into double digits at 47-37 with 8:36 to play. The Wildcats battled back to within a possession once more, using a 14-7 rally to get within 3 points at 54-51 with less than 5 minutes remaining. Again, the Cougars pushed right back, using a 7-point burst that put the game away by getting the lead back to double-digits at 61-51, with less than 2 minutes to play.
Although Azusa Pacific made only 1-of-10 3-pointers and converted only 6 field goals in the first half, the Cougar defense held Bethel to just 31 percent (18-of-58) shooting from the field and harassed the Wildcats into 26 turnovers. Hall contributed to the effort with 2 steals and a blocked shot, and she finished with 8 points and a game-high 4 assists.
The Cougars also posted a 43-37 edge on the boards, with senior guard Michelle Byrd grabbing 4 of her 7 rebounds on the offensive glass. Byrd also scored 7 and registered a game-high 4 steals before fouling out in 22 minutes of action off the bench.
Bethel was led by Hailee Deckard’s 11 points, and Teena Carter added 10 points and a game-high 8 rebounds.
With the win, Azusa Pacific returns home with 2 more wins in 3 games at the Jackson Rotary Classic, which featured a 6-team field that included 5 ranked in the NAIA’s top 10 plus No. 19 Bethel. The Cougars improve to 4-1 heading into the 2-day Thanksgiving weekend Cougar Classic, where they will host NAIA Division II’s No. 8-ranked Grand View (Iowa) and unranked NAIA Division II Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio).