AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific spotted No. 12 Biola a 20-point first-half lead, dooming the Cougars to their first GSAC loss at home in 2 seasons with the Eagles’ 66-57 win Tuesday at the Felix Event Center.
Biola’s frontcourt tandem of Christina Barclay and Jessilyn Conicelli each recorded double-doubles for a combined 28 points and 27 rebounds, and the pair was even better defensively. They helped hold Azusa Pacific’s frontcourt without a double-digit scorer or rebounder. The Cougars were led by junior guard Eboni Sadler’s 17 points and 9 rebounds, while junior point guard Briana Hall was the only other Cougar to reach double figures with 10 points.
The loss snaps a 13-game GSAC home winning streak for Azusa Pacific, whose last home defeat in conference play was Feb. 21, 2009, when the Cougars suffered an 87-85 overtime defeat to Vanguard. It was the Cougars’ first regular-season loss to a team ranked outside the NAIA’s top 10 since a 9-point home loss to NCAA Division II Seattle Pacific, which was ranked No. 20 in NCAA Div. II when it handed the Cougars a 71-62 defeat Dec. 31, 2009.
Tuesday’s loss was primarily the product of Biola’s 28-8 game-opening run, during which the Eagles took Azusa Pacific completely out of its offense. The Cougars’ only baskets in the game’s opening 8 minutes came on a fast-break layup off a steal and a quick-hitting Kristie Hala’ufia jumper at the top of the key, and by that time Biola had already jumped out to an 18-4 lead. The Eagles extended the lead to 20 points, its largest of the game, with a Lauren Gustafson 3-pointer that made it 28-8 with 7:45 to play in the first half.
After Gustafson’s trey, Azusa Pacific finally showed some signs of life with a big lineup that featured Hala’ufia and junior center Amber Williams. Hala’ufia set Williams up with an easy look underneath before scoring back-to-back buckets herself to spark a 19-6 run that cut Biola’s halftime lead to 34-27.
The Cougars merely kept pace to start the second half, never getting closer than 5 points through the first 8 minutes of the second half. Biola took advantage, using another Gustafson trey to reel off 9 straight points over a 3-minute stretch for a 56-42 lead with 9:39 to play. From there, the Eagles maintained a double-digit lead for all but 22 seconds of the final 10-plus minutes. Azusa Pacific twice pulled to within 9 points late, with junior guard Sadler hitting 1 of just 4 Cougar 3-pointers in the closing seconds for the final 66-57 margin.
Hala’ufia and senior forward Alex Moore-Porter finished with 9 points each, and Williams added 7 points and 8 rebounds. The trio combined to shoot just 8-for-28 (29 percent) from the field, and those three combined for 18 defensive rebounds while Biola grabbed 19 offensive boards.
Biola was led by Barclay, who scored a team-high 16 points with 10 rebounds, while Conicelli added 12 points and a game-high 17 boards. Barclay also registered 4 of Biola’s 7 blocked shots.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 8-2 overall, 2-1 in GSAC play, reducing the number of teams unbeaten in conference play to 2 with only a week-and-a-half of the conference schedule complete. Biola improves to 7-2 overall, 2-1 GSAC.
The Cougars’ next GSAC matchup is Saturday’s visit to Point Loma Nazarene, where Azusa Pacific has lost 10 straight on the road against the Sea Lions.