IRVINE, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific used a balanced attack, including a season-high 15 points off the bench from junior Amber Williams, to knock off Concordia University, 86-69, in a Golden State Athletic Conference basketball game in Irvine, Saturday evening.
However, it was Williams who had the most immediate impact on the final outcome. Arguably the top reserve in the GSAC, Williams took over the game midway through the first half by scoring all 8 of her first-half points during a 17-5 Cougar run in which Azusa Pacific opened up a 40-24 advantage.
“I enjoy my role because when everyone else is tired after running the floor, I come in fresh and with little more energy, and I think that’s what you saw tonight,” said Williams, who came into the game averaging 7 points and 7 rebounds on the season. “We ran set plays for me, but everybody had that energy and effort on the floor and was looking for each other.”
The Cougars maintained that 16-point cushion at halftime, leading 42-26, a rarity for a team that has had nail-biting, nerve-wracking victories in its past 2 trips to the CU Arena.
“The last 2 years here the game has come down to the last minute,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach T.J. Hardeman. “We didn’t talk about that with the team, but I was aware of it. Instead we talked about having small goals like playing with a lot of energy for the first 10 minutes of the game, so we didn’t have to focus on the end.”
Azusa Pacific never trailed in the game, scoring the first 6 points and maintaining a 2-possession lead much of the half until Williams entered the contest and changed the complexion of the play.
“If Amber isn’t the best player coming off the bench in the GSAC, then Michelle Byrd is,” said Hardeman. “Amber is just relentless. I feel like with her and Kristie we start 2 people and we’re just going to wear down people on the inside.”
As good as Williams was, Hala’ufia was just as dominant in her play. The 6-foot-2 senior posted her third double-double of the season, finishing with a game-high 15 rebounds, 13 of which came in the first half, just 2 shy of what the entire Concordia squad collected in the opening 20 minutes.
The Cougars out-rebounded Concordia by 15 and out-scored the Eagles 50-20 in the paint.
“Kristie is our emotional leader and when she goes, it pumps everyone up to a level where we believe we need to be to be successful,” said Hardeman.
Azusa Pacific never let Concordia get closer than 12 points in the second half and pushed its lead to as much as 23 at 86-63 following a Briana Hall lay-up with 2-and-a-half minutes left in the game. Hall finished with 13 points, a season-high 9 assists and 5 steals.
Azusa Pacific held Concordia to 38-percent (23-for-61) shooting and forced 16 Eagle turnovers, 11 of which came off steals.
“We did a good job of changing defenses and confusing them,” added Hardeman. “It fired us up because we’re a team that does better attacking on defense.”
Azusa Pacific has now won 11 straight over Concordia, which hasn’t beaten the Cougars since 2005.
With the victory, the Cougars improve to 8-1 overall, 2-0 in the GSAC. They now turn their focus to Tuesday’s (Dec. 7) GSAC contest vs. Biola University at 5:30 p.m. in the Felix Event Center.