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A Hallmark Moment

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Photo by Ken Williams
Briana Hall waited til her finale regular season home game to reach the 30-pointfor the first time in her career.

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February 25, 2012
Chris Baker
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Video Highlights At The End Of The Story

AZUSA, Calif.-- Briana Hall has accomplished a lot in her four year career. She’s won an NAIA national championship. She’s racked up more assists than anyone in Cougar history. She’s tallied over 1,500 points. And she ranks in the top-5 on the school’s all-time steals list. However, coming into tonight's GSAC finale the senior point guard has never eclipsed the 30-point mark in a game, somewhat shocking for the program’s No. 8 all-time scorer. But on senior night Hall changed that, pouring in a career-best 31 points as the NAIA’s 12th ranked Azusa Pacific closed its GSAC run in style by defeating No. 5 Westmont 76-64 to secure the No. 2 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

The Cougars, who were dealt their first loss of the season in the GSAC opener at Westmont, took it to the 2011-12 regular season conference champion, shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and a fiery 55.6 from 3-point range. On the defensive end Azusa Pacific (22-6, 15-3) held the Warriors to a 36.4 percent clip from the field, and allowed Westmont to hit just five of its 29 3-point shots as the Warriors repeatedly settled for outside shots. Katie Kittle, who scored 26 points in the first matchup, finished with only seven points while GSAC Player of the Year candidate Tugce Canitez was limited to a modest 14 points and 10 rebounds.

“The whole team is getting closer to where we want to be as we go into playoffs. They’re a good team, but tonight we showed that we’re every bit as good,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “We’re playing our best basketball of the year. We’ve been talking about giving an effort and it’s been nice to see each game we’re utilizing our strengths. Having 11 turnovers in a game like that is awesome.”

The Cougar offense saw nine players score, while three reached double digits as Hall not only found the basket, but her teammates as well, finishing with nine assists after notching only six points and five assists in the first meeting with Westmont (26-3, 16-2). The senior guard nailed two treys and buried 9-of-11 free throws , and also had three steals and a block to wrap up her most complete game of the season.

“Bri had an awesome night. We challenged her before the game to be that senior leader, [and she came through],” said Hardeman. “She’s capable of that, and I thought the awesome part is that she had nine assists to go with her 31 points. A lot of people can score, but to score and set people up highlights how much she’s able to do for us. We’re going to miss her.”

Hall took it upon herself from the get-go; finding Amanda Sims for an early 3-pointer and Williams for a layup. She then got to the line for a pair of free throws in a run that gave Azusa Pacific a quick 12-3 advantage.

“I definitely wanted this win. They were the No. 1 team. We were supposed to be the No. 1 team. I knew we had to attack them to get it,” said Hall. “Seeing that this was my last home game in my college career I’d figure I’d go out like that. It was a great feeling.”

The Cougars, who held the lead from start to finish, went up by as many as 16 in the second half and outscored the Warriors 38-26 in the paint.

Westmont closed the opening half on a 15-6 run to cut the Cougar lead to two at the break. But midway through the second half Azusa Pacific went on a 10-1 run to push the lead to 48-36 and Westmont never recovered. Aubrey Lincoln finished with a team-high 23 points, but took 17 shots, including 15 3-pointers (made only four).

Senior Amber Williams registered her 20th double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and pulling in 11 rebounds, while Rebecca Roehrkasse posted a 10-point, three-block game in Azusa Pacific’s biggest win to date.

“It was really big. [Back] then, we weren’t as good as we are now. Coming in we knew we had a chance to win the game,” said Williams. “We’re finding our roles, playing together and playing hard. I couldn’t ask for anything better. We’re getting the momentum where it needs to be.”

And as Azusa Pacific enters the conference tournament with the GSAC’s longest winning streak (7), there is little doubt that the Cougars look the part of a team that can make another deep postseason run as they’ve posted five straight double-digit wins.

Sims and Maddy Barrett each finished with six points, while Hannah Kenny added four off the bench. Jasmyn Reed had two boards, two points, a block, and a steal in her final regular season home game, and Cherie Hughes finished with two points and an assist.

With the win Azusa Pacific improved to 13-0 at home and will have a chance to add to that streak as the Cougars host Fresno Pacific on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the opening round of the GSAC tournament. If they can post a win they’ll host winner of the Vanguard-Point Loma Nazarene game on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the semifinals. Westmont, which won its first-ever regular season GSAC championship, will have home-court throughout the tournament.

Video Highlights by Azusa Pacific student, Rob Small