LA MIRADA, Calif. -- Senior guard Michelle Byrd scored a game-high 16 points, 14 in the first half, and the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific led by as many as 40 points in an 81-48 win over Evangel (Mo.) Wednesday afternoon at the Biola University Holiday Classic.
The victory replaces the recent memory of Tuesday’s 10-point loss to No. 3-ranked Lewis-Clark State (Idaho), a contest in which the Cougars trailed by double-digits the entire second half. Azusa Pacific wasted no time washing away Tuesday’s loss, jumping out to a 13-2 lead while surrendering just 1 field goal in the first 7:30 of the contest. Byrd nailed 4 3-pointers in a 6-minute stretch midway through the half to push the halftime lead to 15 points at 39-24.
There was no second-half letdown, either, as Azusa Pacific held Evangel without a field goal for 7 more minutes in a 14-0 burst to start the second half. The Cougars forced 5 of Evangel’s 26 turnovers during the run, picking off 3 steals and a pair of blocks while pushing the lead to 53-24 with 13:53 remaining.
Evangel’s Kayla Carson scored her team’s first field goal after halftime with a 3-pointer that made it 55-29, but Azusa Pacific responded with a 17-3 run to take its largest lead of the game, a 40-point cushion at 72-32 with 7:41 to play.
Byrd’s game-high 16-point effort tied her season-high, and it was only 3 points shy of her career-high of 19 that she scored as a junior in the 2009-10 season opener. The 5-foot-7 guard hit 6-of-7 shots, including all 4 treys she attempted in the first half, and she added 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals.
She was joined in double figures by senior forward Alex Moore-Porter, who tallied 15 points with 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Junior center Amber Williams started for the second time this season, and she led the Cougars to a lopsided 48-32 rebounding advantage with 8 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Eleven different players scored for Azusa Pacific, which enjoyed a 29-9 bench scoring edge over Evangel. Freshman forward Hannah Kenny made the most of her 11 minutes, scoring 5 points with 8 rebounds, and senior guard C.J. Hill led the Cougar reserves with 9 points and 3 steals.
Evangel was led by 9-point efforts from Kara Blankenship and Ashlee Luko, and the Crusaders’ rebounding leader was Lacey Luttrull, who grabbed 6 rebounds with 8 points.
Today’s contest was the second of 3 consecutive matchups against NAIA Top 10 foes for Evangel, which drops to 4-6 overall. The Crusaders lost by 10 at top-ranked Union (Tenn.) Dec. 15, and they take on No. 7-ranked tournament host Biola Thursday.
Azusa Pacific improves to 10-3 on the season heading into Thursday’s 4 p.m. matchup against La Sierra in the final day of action at Biola’s 3-day classic. Thursday’s contest is the last non-conference tuneup of the season before the Cougars resume the final 16 games of the 20-game Golden State Athletic Conference schedule.