AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Azusa Pacific led by double-digits for all but 6 minutes, and the Cougars led by as many as 40 points in a convincing 80-48 win over Concordia Friday night at the Felix Event Center.
The 32-point win was Azusa Pacific’s largest margin of victory in a Golden State Athletic Conference game in just over a year, since last year’s 86-50 home win over San Diego Christian. Five players scored in double figures for the Cougars, led by senior center Kristie Hala’ufia’s game-high 16 points, and Azusa Pacific shot its third-highest field goal percentage of the season with a 34-for-64 (53 percent) performance.
“We have a good inside game, but that comes from also having a great outside game,” said Hala’ufia, who posted her first game in double figures since she scored 15 in the Cougars’ road win over Vanguard Jan. 13. “I haven’t been shooting that well lately, but we were able to get into good spots for the guards to find us down low. With Concordia coming off their big win against Vanguard, we knew that we needed to play together and play good defense. We got a lot of good performances from a lot of different players.”
Junior center Amber Williams was 1 rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with a game-high 9 rebounds to go with 14 points that helped the Cougars to a 52-16 advantage in scoring in the paint. Junior point guard Briana Hall tallied 12 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals, and senior forward Alex Moore-Porter and junior guard Eboni Sadler contributed 10 points apiece to the Cougars’ balanced offense.
“We were so happy to be home after going from San Diego to Fresno in the last week,” Cougar head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “We’ve been practicing well this week, and we had a really solid team effort from a lot of people tonight.”
Behind Williams’ 9 rebounds, 5 of which came on the offensive glass, Azusa Pacific also dominated the boards. The Cougars out-rebounded Concordia by a 52-27 margin for its tenth straight game with a positive rebounding margin, a trend that should come in handy when they take on the GSAC’s top rebounding team with Tuesday’s visit to No. 6-ranked Biola.
“When you dominate the boards like that, that’s going to give you a good chance to win,” Hardeman said “We do try to stress rebounding, and it doesn’t hurt that we’re bigger than most teams we face. We just have to be quick to the ball, so that’s what we work on.”
After Concordia took its only lead of the game, 4-2, in the game’s first 2 minutes, Hall scored the first 3 of 13 straight Cougar points in a 4-minute stretch. When a Karen Carney jumper pulled the Eagles to within 10 points at 22-12 midway through the opening half, Hala’ufia sparked another run of 8 points in a row in another 4-minute burst.
“It’s very important for our team to start quick, and that’s what we did tonight,” Hall said. “I always like to get my team involved first as my main priority, but Coach has been talking to me about shooting more. I figured I would start shooting in the first half and if that opens things up for everyone else, I can get them involved after that.”
The Cougars led by 18 at the half, 39-21, with Hall scoring all 12 of her points before halftime to lead all first-half scorers. She spent the second half setting up the rest of her teammates, dishing out 6 of her game-high 7 assists after halftime as Azusa Pacific opened the second half with a 15-4 run in the first 5 minutes to push the lead to 54-25.
A pair of Hala’ufia free throws with 12:08 remaining gave the Cougars their first 30-point lead, and a 10-1 run that spanned just 1:40 made it a 40-point game (74-34) with 7:26 to play. Concordia scored nearly a third of its total points in the final 7:07, scoring 14 of the game’s final 20 points for the final 32-point margin. Concordia’s 48-point output was the lowest by a Cougar opponent since Azusa Pacific held San Diego Christian to 46 points in a February 2009 GSAC matchup.
Concordia shot a chilly 30 percent (19-for-63) on the game, led by Carney’s 10-point, 5-rebound effort that made her the Eagles’ only double-digit scorer. Tonight’s game wrapped up a 5-game stretch for Concordia against the top 5 GSAC teams, which are all ranked in the NAIA Top 25, and the loss dropped the Eagles to 10-7 overall and 5-6 in GSAC play.
Azusa Pacific extends its winning streak to a season-long 7 games, improving to 18-4 overall, 10-2 GSAC. The Cougars move into sole possession of second place for the next 24 hours, a half-game behind first-place California Baptist and a half-game ahead of Biola until those 2 clash Saturday night in La Mirada.