AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific shot a season-high 56 percent from the field, and 4 different players recorded individual season-bests as the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Cougars posted an impressive 83-59 win over No. 21 Westmont Saturday night at the Felix Event Center.
Leading the way in the 34-of-61 shooting performance was junior guard Eboni Sadler, who scored a career-high 27 points to eclipse her previous best this year by 10 points. Sadler knocked down 11-of-17 shots, and she also came up with 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and tied another season-high with 5 steals. She led a balanced scoring attack that featured 3 more double-digit scorers for the Cougars.
Junior center Amber Williams and senior guard Michelle Byrd each went 8-of-10 from the field, with Williams recording season scoring and rebounding bests with a 16-point, 14-rebound performance. Byrd tied her career-high with a 19-point effort, hitting 3-of-4 from 3-point range, where she has hit 11-of-17 triples over the past 4 games. Junior guard Briana Hall added 11 points, and she was 1 assist away from a double-double, tying her career-high with the fifth 9-assist game of her career.
“To have 2 players go 8-for-10 was an indication that they were taking good shots and that everyone on the court was looking for ways to set each other up,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “We feel like we are a good shooting team, so we want to make sure we’re taking the right shots.”
Azusa Pacific broke the game open with a 19-2 run over a 6-minute stretch that closed out the first half and started the second. The Cougars snapped a 34-34 tie with 7 straight points to close out the first half, then picked up where they left off by extending the run with a 12-2 burst to start the second half.
“We want to find more ways to make our athleticism more apparent, and tonight that was in some different trapping situations and pushing the ball up and down the floor,” Hardeman said. “Playing at a high tempo is good for us, and most teams are willing to participate in that. Even though we only had a 7-point halftime lead, we had gotten up and down the floor quite a bit in the first half. In the second half, we started right where we left off, and that was a huge difference in maintaining the direction the game was going.”
Sadler, Williams, and Byrd accounted for Azusa Pacific’s first 14 points of the second half, and the Cougars pulled down 9 of the 11 rebounds during the run, including 6 in a row after halftime. Azusa Pacific finished the game with a 41-33 overall rebounding edge, and the Cougars were even more impressive at their own basket, pulling down more offensive rebounds (18) on its own misses than Westmont, which only had 12 defensive rebounds.
Westmont pulled to within 10 points with an 8-0 run that trimmed the margin to 56-46 with 12:47 to play, but Sadler scored the next 3 Cougar baskets to help get the lead back to 15 points. A Sadler 3-pointer gave Azusa Pacific its first 20-point lead at 72-52 with 6:19 remaining, and the Cougars took their largest lead with sophomore Whitley Brown’s jumper for the final 83-59 margin.
Sadler led all first-half scorers with 14 points, hitting 6-of-10 from the field and sparking the Cougars to a 41-34 halftime lead. The 7-point margin was Azusa Pacific’s biggest in the opening half, and Hall, who dished out 6 first-half assists, scored 5 points in a 7-0 run over the final 2:25 of the period.
Early in the first half, Elizabeth Evancoe hit 3-pointers on 3 consecutive possessions, sparking Westmont on a 9-2 run for an early 13-11 lead just over 4 minutes into the game. Evancoe took just 2 more shots the rest of the half, both of them 3-point attempts that were off the mark. Evancoe finished as Westmont’s leading scorer with 16 points, and Angel Blanco and Lisa Peterson added 12 points each for the Warriors.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 12-4 overall with a 4-2 GSAC mark, while Westmont suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time this year to fall to 10-4 overall and 2-4 in GSAC play. The Cougars return to action on Thursday, Jan. 13, when they visit No. 9-ranked Vanguard in the first of 2 matchups between last year’s conference co-champions.