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Cougars Extend GSAC Lead

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Published
February 12, 2011
By
Joe Reinsch
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- New Golden State Athletic Conference leader Azusa Pacific posted a 68-62 win Saturday night at the NAIA’s No. 21-ranked Westmont, extending its lead to 2 games after second-place California Baptist lost its third straight game with an upset defeat at home to Vanguard.

Junior guard Eboni Sadler scored a game-high 19 points to lead No. 4-ranked Azusa Pacific, and senior forward Alex Moore-Porter was a rebound shy of a double-double with 16 points and 9 boards. Despite shooting just 34 percent (24-for-70) from the field, including a paltry 2-for-11 (18 percent) from 3-point range, the Cougars controlled the boards with a 50-41 rebounding edge and shot a near-perfect 18-for-20 (90 percent) at the free-throw line.

Azusa Pacific rallied from 6 down in the second half, using a 17-3 run to take the lead for good and hold on for the crucial road win over the first of the 2 ranked teams remaining in the conference regular-season schedule. The Cougars are now 22-4 overall and 14-2 in GSAC play, winning 11 straight to move 2 games ahead of a second-place tie between Biola and California Baptist. Westmont, which entered the game on a 4-game winning streak that included wins over No. 5 California Baptist and No. 14 Vanguard, fell into a tie for fourth with Vanguard at 10-6 GSAC with an 18-6 overall mark.

A Sadler jumper late in the first half gave Azusa Pacific a 4-point halftime lead, 31-27, and the Cougars still led by a bucket, 36-34, 3 minutes into the second half. Westmont then went on a 10-2 run to take its largest lead of the game at 44-38 with 13:05 to play before senior guard Michelle Byrd hit 1 of Azusa Pacific’s 2 treys to put the Cougars in front during the 17-3 run. Moore-Porter finished the burst with back-to-back 3-point plays that pushed the lead to 55-47 with 7:26 to play.

Westmont twice got as close as 3 points in the final 6 minutes, but Sadler and Byrd scored on consecutive possessions the first time it happened to push the lead back to 7 points. When Angel Blanco converted a 3-point play with 2:07 remaining to cut the Cougars’ lead back to 3 points at 62-59, it was another Sadler bucket followed by a pair of Byrd free throws that pushed the lead back to 7 in the final minute of play.

Byrd picked up 2 first-half fouls, limiting her to 5 minutes without a shot attempt in the first half, but she scored all 11 of her points and grabbed 6 rebounds (all offensive) after halftime. Senior center Kristie Hala’ufia, also scoreless in the first half, scored 9 in the second half, and the Cougars’ entire second-half scoring load was split between 4 players (Byrd, Hala’ufia, Moore-Porter, and Sadler).

Westmont was led by 13-point efforts from Blanco and Vanessa Farias, and they were joined in double figures by Katie Kittle (11 points) and Elizabeth Evancoe (10 points).

Azusa Pacific’s field-goal shooting was its lowest in a victory this season, and 68 points was the Cougars’ second-lowest winning score of the year. The Cougars committed only 13 turnovers, including just 5 in the second half, leading to a 24-10 edge in points off turnovers.

Azusa Pacific returns to action on Thursday, Feb. 17, when the Cougars host Vanguard in a rematch of the 2010 GSAC regular season co-champions.