AZUSA, Calif.-- The NAIA’s No. 12 ranked Azusa Pacific proved Tuesday night that it can win from anywhere on the court and in any fashion.
With the Mustangs keying in on the two-time NAIA Player of the week, Amber Williams, the Cougars used a balanced effort, led by Amanda Sims’ game-high 20 points and Briana Hall’s nine assists to nab a 77-70 win over the Master's to wrap up the first half of GSAC play. Azusa Pacific registered 22 assists on 30 field goals and had four players finish with 10+ points.
“Any time you win it’s nice. I was very pleased that we got people the ball in the right spots,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “It was nice to have Amanda going, and Hall with nine assists was key.
With the Mustangs' (9-12, 2-7) zone defense collapsing on Williams, Hall consistently found outside shooters, namely Sims, as Azusa Pacific (14-5, 7-2) buried eight of its 15 3-pointers in the game. Hall ended with 15 points, nine assists, three steals and three rebounds, and was the driving force all night.
“She’s phenomenal. Without her we don’t look anything like we do with her,” said Hardeman. “With [Amber getting the accolades] she’s flying a little under the radar but she knows she’s doing a great job and her team knows it.
The Master’s four-guard lineup dared Azusa Pacific to beat them from outside the key and the Cougars responded with Sims’ five treys and sharp shooting from Rebecca Roehrkasse, who added 11 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. The Cougars shot 47.6 percent from the floor (30-63) and posted a 53.3 percent clip from beyond the arc.
“It’s every shooter’s dream to have a post like Williams,” said Sims. “If they come out on us then she’ll be wide open. It makes us hard to stop.”
Williams, who by anyone else’s standards had a great night, recorded a modest 16 points and seven rebounds against a defense that relentlessly collapsed on her every time she got the ball. The center, however, didn’t panic.
“When you have the two-time NAIA Player of the Week you have to expect that,” said Hardeman. “She wasn’t surprised by that and I thought she did a good job.”
The undersized Mustangs didn’t shoot particularly well (36.4 percent), but managed to keep it close by making 18-of-20 second half free throws, led by Lena Rivera who nailed all eight of her attempts to finish with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Late in the second half with Azusa Pacific nursing a six point lead Hall found Williams underneath for a basket to make it 73-65 before a Roehrkasse free throw pushed the advantage to 74-65. After The Master’s got a transition layup Hall was sent to the line. She nailed the front end of a one-and-one but missed the following free throw. The senior, however, stole a Mustang pass and was sent back to the line where she drained two free throws to seal the win.
The Master’s, who trailed by as many as 22, utilized a 12-2 run that spanned three minutes to get back in the game at 67-59 with 5:18 to play.
Hannah Kenny was again a spark off the bench as she turned Cougar missed shots into buckets on back-to-back possessions in the first half. The sophomore scored six points in the game and added six rebounds (four offensive). Maddy Barrett, who led Azusa Pacific with eight rebounds, was all over the court as the she tallied four points, four assists, and four steals.
With the win the Cougars remain two games back of Westmont, and one back of Vanguard at third place in the GSAC standings. Azusa Pacific’s only two conference losses this year came on the road by the hands of Westmont and Vanguard. In each game the Cougars led by double-digits in the second half, and in the loss to the Lions Hall didn’t suit up. Azusa Pacific will face each team at home, a place where the Cougars are 9-0, in the back end of the GSAC schedule; beginning with Vanguard next Friday night.