AZUSA, Calif.-- It seemed fitting that Azusa Pacific’s final GSAC home game against arch-rival Biola would go down to the wire.
With just 14.4 seconds left in the game Biola (8-4) had the ball trailing 51-49, but as was the norm for the night the Eagles struggled to get a good look and settled for a driving prayer that glanced off the side of the backboard; giving NAIA No. 11 Azusa Pacific (9-4) its second conference win of the season.
“That’s a typical Biola-Azusa Pacific game. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “They were up to the challenge to battle.”
The Cougars held the Eagles to 19 second half points after trailing 30-27 at the break and held a 44-28 rebounding edge in the game.
“We had a 16-rebound margin and we needed every one of them to get the win,” said Hardeman.
Briana Hall led all scorers with 17 points and was the only Azusa Pacific player to finish in double digits as the Cougars shot just 36 percent from the field and gave up the ball 24 times.
“We had too many turnovers to be as effective as we wanted to be,” said Hardeman. “They took away our major weapons and naturally Briana stepped up. We expect that from her. If you asked her she’d say she could play better, but she was able to deliver in some key spots.”
Neither team led by more than six in the game and Azusa Pacific didn’t hold a lead for all but 30 seconds in the first half up until 15:28 to play in the second. Amber Williams, who was named NAIA Player of the Week, struggled , converting only three of her 16 shots against a Biola defense that swarmed the center every time she touched it. Williams did, however, crash the boards, pulling in a game-high 13 rebounds.
The game opened with a Rebecca Roehrkasse bucket, but Biola’s Charrise Reece responded by nailing a 3-pointer and a subsequent jumper to give the Eagles a quick 5-2 advantage. Lauren Gustafson then buried a shot from the middle of the key as Biola looked sharp early, leading 7-2. But Roehrkasse, who scored the Cougars first seven points, buried another bucket before Reece stole it and hit another trey to push the lead to six in a frenetic start that was a far cry from how the rest of the game would play out.
Biola hit its first three shots from behind the arc (finished 4-15 in the game), and took a five point lead following Emily Drew’s bucket from downtown.
Hall kept the Cougars in it with a layup-plus the foul before Williams tied the contest with her first basket of the game at the 9:00 minute mark after starting 0-4 while being blocked twice.
Later in the half with the Cougars trailing by four, Hannah Kenny got the ball in the post, before converting a nifty reverse drop-step flip in to make it 24-22 with 3:48 to play.
The Cougars went into the break trailing 30-27 despite holding a 21-11 rebounding edge, including 12 offensive rebounds. Hall finished the half with 12 points, but the rest of the team the team made only 6-of-20 shots from the field.
In the second half Williams stole a Reece pass and found a streaking Amanda Sims who was fouled on her layup attempt. She converted both tries to drop the deficit to one, but Biola bounced back with another Drews 3-pointer.
The Cougars tied it after Madalene Barrett grabbed an offensive board (finished with 11 rebounds) and found a crashing Hall for an and-one layup. Two possessions later Hall returned the favor and got it to Barrett, who nailed a jumper from the elbow.
With the game tied at 38-38 Azusa Pacific finally took its first lead since the opening minute after Tianna Jones sunk two free throws at the 15:25 mark.
Both teams exchanged buckets until there were three minutes to play when Williams gave the Cougars their biggest lead of the game after grabbing a Roehrkasse miss to make it 51-47. But Reece cut it to two points after making two free throws with barely over a minute to go.
Then, as the Cougars were milking the clock, Reece picked Hall’s pocket and found a sprinting Adija Adams wide open down the center of the court. But Adija’s speed turned out to be problematic as her layup attempt sailed off the back board.
Then in the final seconds Biola got the ball with 14.4 seconds to play Becca DeVere tried to make the best out of a broken play, but her running hook down the right side of the key bounced off the side of the backboard as time expired.
The Cougars held Biola to just one field goal over the final six minutes of play, and the 49 points allowed were the second lowest this season.
With the win Azusa Pacific improved its all-time record against Biola to 42-33, and matched its season best four-game win streak.
The next test for the Cougars will be a road battle against No. 8 Vanguard on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.