POMONA, Calif.-- In a game of runs, the NAIA’s No. 11 ranked Azusa Pacific couldn’t quite come back from NCAA Div. II No.11 ranked Cal Poly Pomona’s first half surge as the Cougars dropped their third straight for the first time since 2009, losing 82-69 on the road Thursday night.
The Broncos (7-0) used a 17-0 run in the opening minutes to grab an 18-2 edge and led by as many as 23 before Azusa Pacific stormed back in the second half to whittle the deficit to seven. But in the end Cal Poly Pomona’s sharp shooting (53.3 percent from the floor) and 31-point effort from Ariel Marsh were too much for the Cougars.
“They’re a good team. They shot the ball really well,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “The first half run was huge. We were in foul trouble and couldn’t make a shot and couldn’t stop them from making a shot.”
Again, the Cougars struggled to shoot early on. After freshman Madalene Barrett gave Azusa Pacific a 2-1 lead with two free throws the team missed the following eight shots; partially because Amber Williams, who picked up two early fouls, was forced to sit for much of the half.
The Broncos took advantage as they hit seven of 10 shots (with each miss leading to an offensive rebound and put back) in the 17-0 run to take a commanding 18-2 lead.
Hannah Kenny eventually ended the run with a jumper, but Marsh (who went 7-8 from 3-point range) knocked down a triple to give the Broncos a 21-4 advantage. Azusa Pacific and Cal Poly Pomona would exchange points from then on before senior point guard Briana Hall ended the half with a fast break layup as the Cougars went into the break trailing 45-27.
Azusa Pacific shot 34.6 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes and made just one of 10 3-point attempts. Cal Poly Pomona, on the other hand couldn’t miss. The Broncos registered a 60 percent clip from the field, and made over half of their attempts from beyond the arc (7-13).
In the second half the Cougars looked like a different team. Rebecca Roehrkasse opened the scoring after grabbing a Williams miss. The Broncos responded with and and-1 by Charlene Popoff, but after she hit the free throw to give the home team a 48-29 lead the Cougars began to chip away at the deficit.
On the next possession Hall missed a 3-pointer, but Roerhkasse gathered the rebound and put it back up. Her shot was off the mark, but the Cougars maintained possession with a Williams rebound and eventual bucket.
Azusa Pacific continued to show an increased desire as Amanda Sims rebounded a missed layup by Hall before getting the put back to make it a 48-33 game. Minutes later with the Cougars trailing 52-37 Hall beat the Bronco defense for a layup and then converted a Roehrkasse steal into a basket to shave Cal Poly Pomona’s advantage to 11 with 15:21 to play.
The Cougars continued to scrap as Hall found Williams under the basket before the center made a layup while being fouled. Williams sunk the free throw to bring Azusa Pacific within nine points with just less than 12 minutes to play. With Azusa Pacific trailing 59-48 freshman guard Katie Powell stepped up and drained a 3-pointer as the Bronco lead fell to just eight; the slimmest margin of the game since the 16:16 mark in the first half.
Powell capped the 23-11 Cougar run with a free throw to make it 59-52 with over eight minutes to play. But Azusa Pacific couldn’t hold the momentum as the Broncos answered with a 10-0 run before going on to win 82-69.
“I was very pleased with the second half. We saw a glimpse of a very good team,” said Hardeman. “A lot of effort and energy went into that run and we just couldn’t sustain it. There was never any thought of giving up. We did a good job of getting back into it.”
Hall, who had struggled over the last four games, looked more like her usual self as she scored 21 points and found her teammates for five assists.
“It was good to see her step up and play well. We need that even more from her [going forward],” said Hardeman.
Williams was the only other Cougar to finish in double figures as the senior recorded 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds in 25 minutes of play. Sims had nine points and collected nine rebounds (four offensive), while dishing out three assists.
The three-game losing streak is the longest one since 2009 when Azusa Pacific dropped three straight GSAC contests. And much like the current skid that one had somewhat of a happy ending as the Cougars overcame a 22-point second half deficit against the NAIA defending champions, Vanguard, to force overtime before falling 87-85 in overtime. Hall, who was a freshman at the time, scored 14 points and had six assists in the game.
Each of Azusa Pacific’s four losses this season have come on the road against ranked opponents. The Cougars lost to a Westmont team that is now 10-1 and ranked No. 5 in the NAIA, while the Kentucky losses were against programs that are each ranked inside the NAIA’s current top-25.
“The fact that we’re disappointed with losing on the road against a team ranked No. 11 in NCAA Div. II says a lot about where we’re at as a program,” said Hardeman. “I knew we’d be young and knew we needed to be in the fire a lot early to see how we’d do. We saw some good things in the second half and now our job as coaches is to get them to play like that every night.”
The Cougars have faced a brutal schedule to start the year. On top of the four losses to ranked teams, Azusa Pacific boasts wins over current NAIA No. 4, Lewis-Clark State (Idaho), and current No. 17 Lubbock Christian (Texas).
The team will enjoy the Christmas break before competing in the Biola Classic on Dec. 28-30.