COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Despite becoming just the sixth player in Azusa Pacific women’s basketball history to reach 1,500 career points, it won’t be the personal milestone that senior center Kristie Hala’ufia remembers the most.
Her strongest memory will instead be the fact that she and her fellow senior class formed the nucleus of the group that snapped a 10-game road losing streak to Vanguard. Hala’ufia scored a team-high 15 points to lead the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Cougars to a 79-70 win over the No. 12 Lions Thursday night, the first Azusa Pacific victory at The Pit in Costa Mesa since 2002.
“Being a part of this program has been a huge blessing for me,” Hala’ufia said. “I’ve been blessed with great teammates and a great coaching staff, and they deserve all the credit for making me the player I am today. We knew how much of a challenge it was to beat Vanguard at The Pit, and it truly was a team effort tonight.”
Hala’ufia scored 11 of her 15 points after halftime, sinking her first shot attempt of the second half for her 1,500th career point, a 2-point basket that gave Azusa Pacific a 44-31 lead just over 2 minutes into the second half. She was also 1 of 5 double-figure scorers, sharing the team scoring lead with fellow senior Michelle Byrd and junior point guard Briana Hall.
“This night is going to be memorable, especially for all of our seniors who have looked forward to the day we won at Vanguard,” Hala’ufia said. “This is a good memory to have as a senior, just knowing that you won there and ended that streak. We’re happy for the win, but we’re not feeling satisfied, because we still have a lot more ahead of us.”
Along with its balanced offensive production, Azusa Pacific completely overwhelmed Vanguard on the boards, more than doubling Vanguard’s rebounding total for a 47-23 margin. The Cougars’ dominance on the boards led to a 26-6 advantage in second-chance points.
It was the fifth straight game where the Cougars have out-rebounded their opponent, and it was also the fifth straight occasion in which Azusa Pacific has pulled down more of its own misses for offensive rebounds than its opponent has taken for defensive rebounds. The Cougars registered 22 offensive boards Thursday, while Vanguard hauled in only 14 defensive rebounds.
“Vanguard has a great tradition, and they’ve been the class of the league for the last several years,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “Sharing the GSAC championship with them last year and beating them at their place this year speaks a lot to our growth as a team and our progress in figuring out what we need to do to win games.”
Senior forward Alex Moore-Porter added 12 points, giving her 1,499 career points in her 3 seasons at Azusa Pacific, and junior guard Eboni Sadler registered 14 points with a team-high 8 rebounds.
Hala’ufia scored the final basket of the first half, giving Azusa Pacific a double-digit halftime lead at 39-28, and the Cougars scored the first 3 points after halftime to complete a 12-0 run in a stretch of just over 5 minutes of game action across both halves. A Moore-Porter free throw gave Azusa Pacific a 42-28 lead with 18:20 to play before Vanguard snapped its 5-minute scoreless stretch with a 14-5 run over the next 5 minutes to trim the margin to 5 points at 47-42 with 13:37 remaining.
“We gave Kristie our game ball tonight, because she did a great job leading our defense,” Hardeman said. “She was vocal about making sure we had the right coverage, and when we’re communicating defensively as a team, we’re a hard team to score against.”
On the next Cougar possession, Sadler pulled down an offensive rebound to keep the possession alive, and sophomore guard Morgann Ellis promptly made the most of it by knocking down a 3-pointer that pushed the lead back to 50-42. Vanguard twice pulled to within 6 points in the next 2 minutes, but Hala’ufia had an offensive rebound putback that sparked an 11-2 run that resulted in Azusa Pacific’s largest lead of the game, 66-51, with 6:55 left in the game.
“Of her 10 shots, a number of them were rebounds she was able to put back,” Hardeman said. “It was really nice for her to have the success she did and reach that milestone in a big game like this.”
After Vanguard reeled off a 10-2 run to pull within 7 points at 68-61 with 3:40 left, Hala’ufia answered on the Cougars’ next possession to push the lead back to 9 points. Following another Vanguard bucket, Hala’ufia secured another offensive rebound that led to a pair of free throws that kept the lead at 9 points, 72-63, with 2:07 to play. The Lions scored on their next 2 possessions, but Azusa Pacific was nearly perfect at the free throw line down the stretch, drilling a pair of free throws on 4 straight possessions and sinking 9-of-10 from the line over the final 2:07 to seal the 9-point win.
Vanguard was led by Molly Pfohl, who scored 15 of her game-high 19 points in the second half and was also joined by 4 other teammates in double figures. Sarah Boyd and Chelsea Alfalfara each hit 3 three-pointers to finish with 13 points, and Veronica Beavor and Allison Burns tallied 10 points each.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific puts together back-to-back Golden State Athletic Conference wins for the second time this season, improving to 13-4 overall. The Cougars are now 5-2 in GSAC play, sitting in a 3-way tie for second place just a game back of conference-leading California Baptist. Vanguard falls to 9-5 overall and 5-3 in GSAC play.
Azusa Pacific returns to action Saturday, hosting Hope International at 5:30 p.m.