SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- It’s no longer a house of horrors.
Perched picturesquely atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Point Loma Nazarene University’s Golden Gymnasium has served as the site of plenty of Azusa Pacific heartbreak over the past 15 years. Point Loma had won 16 of the past 17 times it hosted the Cougars since 1996, including a run of 10 straight entering the weekend.
That all changed Saturday night, however, as the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Cougars savored the surroundings after roaring into Christmas break with a resounding 92-69 thumping of the host Sea Lions.
“This was a great win for our seniors, because they had never won down here,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “It was nice for them to have tonight’s game as their last memory of this place. Point Loma has always been a very good program, and that’s a big part of their home court advantage. I don’t know why we historically haven’t performed well down here, but it was awesome for this group to be done with that.”
After suffering an embarrassing home loss to No. 12 Biola earlier in the week that snapped its own 13-game home GSAC winning streak, Azusa Pacific turned its fortunes around with a masterful performance in the location one would least expect. The result had another unexpected consequence, vaulting the Cougars back into the GSAC lead, which is now shared by 5 teams with 3-1 GSAC marks after the conference’s 2 remaining unbeatens (The Master’s and Vanguard) were knocked off in Saturday’s action. Azusa Pacific has the GSAC’s highest overall win total with its 9-2 overall record.
“We were all disappointed and discouraged, knowing we didn’t play very well Tuesday, but the mark of a good team is the ability to leave games like that in the past and come out fresh,” Hardeman said. “We were a lot more aggressive tonight than we were Tuesday, and the bottom line is we shot the ball a lot better. When the ball drops for you, everything you’re doing looks good.”
The Cougars never trailed, cruising to a 17-point halftime lead on 9-of-11 3-point shooting in the opening period, and the game featured a trio of season-best performances. Azusa Pacific’s 56-point first-half outburst was its highest total in a half in over 2 years, its 12 3-pointers in the game tied the program’s best 3-point total since the 2005-06 campaign, and a season-low 6 turnovers was the fewest for a Cougar team in the last decade.
Senior forward Alex Moore-Porter and junior guard Eboni Sadler each scored 14 points in the first half alone, and Moore-Porter finished with a team-high 18 in just 20 minutes of play. Sadler registered 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field, and she drilled both of her 3-point attempts while adding 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Sadler got the Cougars’ 3-point shooting off the ground just 3 minutes into the game, breaking an early 5-5 tie to give Azusa Pacific the lead the rest of the way.
Leading the charge from beyond the arc were senior guard C.J. Hill and sophomore guard Morgann Elliswho each hit 3 treys for the Cougars. Hill was 3-of-3 from long distance in the first half, and Ellis’ first triple gave Azusa Pacific its largest first-half lead at 56-37 in the final minute of the opening period. Hill finished with 11 points and Ellis tallied 9, and junior point guard Briana Hall was a perfect 2-for-2 on 3-pointers to end up with 10 points and team-highs of 8 assists and 2 steals.
“We had a number of people who did some very good things,” Hardeman said. “We didn’t shoot the ball all that well inside, but we took care of the ball and had a great night from our shooters. C.J. and Morgann shot the ball well, and Eboni was really going offensively and defensively. We have so many people who are capable of beating you in different spots; we really don’t depend on just one person.”
Hill’s first 3-pointer resulted in the Cougars’ first double-digit lead, 23-13, just over 6 minutes into the contest, and a flurry of 4 treys in a 2-minute span late in the half put the lead comfortably into double digits for the final 23-and-a-half minutes of the game. Hall and Hill hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions after Point Loma Nazarene had pulled to within 35-32 with 5 minutes left in the first half, and Hill, Moore-Porter and Ellis each hit another triple as Azusa Pacific closed out the first half with a 21-7 run to take a 56-39 halftime lead.
The Cougars spent all but 5 minutes of the second half with a lead of at least 20 points, answering a Point Loma 3-pointer to open the second half with a 17-5 run that included an Ellis trey and pushed the margin to 73-47 with less than 12 minutes remaining. Azusa Pacific had a pair of 28-point leads (79-51 and 81-53), and Ellis’ final 3-pointer with 4:43 to play gave the Cougars a commanding 88-61 edge.
Point Loma Nazarene, which is now 3-4 overall and 1-3 in GSAC play, was led by Kaitlyn Trotter, who posted a double-double with game-highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds. The Sea Lions got 14 points off the bench from Lindsey Hill, who scored all 14 in the first half but was held scoreless after halftime. Crissa Jackson dished out a game-high 10 assists without a turnover, but she was just 2-of-9 from the field and finished with 4 points.
Although conference play doesn’t resume until Jan. 4, when Azusa Pacific visits GSAC co-leader California Baptist, the Cougars wrap up one of the NAIA’s toughest non-conference slates over Christmas break. They’ll meet a pair of NAIA Top 25-ranked foes in No. 5 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and No. 24 Evangel (Mo.), along with unranked La Sierra, Dec. 28-30 at the Biola Holiday Classic in La Mirada.