AZUSA, Calif.-- Expectations can be funny, especially when they're as high as they are for the NAIA’s No. 13 ranked Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team. The Cougars beat San Diego Christian 72-60 on the road to post their ninth straight 20-win season; a mark the Hawks haven’t hit once in their program’s history. But they aren’t celebrating.
Amber Williams scored 22 points and pulled down 14 rebounds; a great night for almost any player in the country, but with her it’s just a step above average. Briana Hall scored 17 points, to go with five rebounds, two steals, and two assists; but the stat that will keep her up is the seven turnovers she committed.
But that isn’t to say the Cougars weren’t excited to get a crack at the only team to beat GSAC leader, Westmont, this year. Azusa Pacific opened the game by nailing four 3-pointers in the first six minutes, including three in a 9-0 run that gave the Cougars a 15-5 lead with 14:18 to play.
“We started off strong and we talked about doing that,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman.
The Cougars shot 48.1 percent from the field in the opening half, and buried 6-of-7 from beyond the arc, led by Amanda Sims with three. Freshman Katie Powell chipped in with a pair of triples, while Hall added another.
Williams, who had a team-high 22 points, made the most of her trips to the free throw line as she went 10-for-13 from the charity stripe, while Cherie Hughes led the Cougars with five assists in 18 minutes.
“Cherie came in and did some really nice things in the first half when Briana got in foul trouble,” said Hardeman. “It was nice to see her do that.”
Azusa Pacific also performed well defensively, holding San Diego Christian to a 23.5 (4-for-17) percent clip from 3-point range, while holding a 46-37 rebounding advantage in the game. The Cougars, however, did struggle to take care of the ball as they coughed it up 24 times, leading to an extra 10 field goal attempts by the Hawks.
Hannah Kenny gave the Cougars a lift with seven rebounds and six points, while Sims ended the game with nine points, three rebounds and three assists. San Diego Christian’s Brittany Daniel led all scorers with 25 points, but also finished with a game-high eight turnovers.
After jumping out to a 15-5 lead San Diego Christian responded with a 7-0 run. But Azusa Pacific scored six straight to push it to 26-14 at the 4:40 mark after Rebecca Roehrkasse’s layup. Then, with just seconds on the clock the Hawks threw the ball to half court and let it bounce, attempting to keep time from running. But Hughes took advantage of the free ball and got the steal before getting fouled on a desperation half-court shot at the buzzer. The senior made two of three free throws to end the half with Azusa Pacific leading 38-25.
In the second half the Hawks went on a mini 5-0 run and eventually cut the Cougar lead to four points on a Hannah Miller jumper with 12:05 to play. But Kenny opened a 14-2 Cougar run with a pair of free throws and Hall ended it the same way four minutes later. San Diego Christian would cut the lead to as little as nine, but the Hawks never threatened over the final eight minutes as Azusa Pacific posted a 72-60 win.
The Cougars hit 18-of-20 free throws in the final 20 minutes, and shot just four 3-pointers as they were the aggressors, continually going inside. The victory keeps the Cougars in second place in the GSAC standings behind a Westmont team that improved to 15-1 with a win over Concordia tonight. If the Cougars can beat The Master’s and the Warriors next week they’ll guarantee themselves second place, with the tiebreaker over Vanguard in the GSAC tournament seeding.