Video Highlights By Rob Small
AZUSA, Calif.-- Azusa Pacific may not have won the regular season GSAC title, but the NAIA’s 12th ranked Cougars reminded everyone that they’re still the team to beat as they posted the program’s largest postseason margin of victory in a 92-56 win over Fresno Pacific in the opening round of the GSAC tournament. The defending NAIA champions, which hold the conference’s longest winning streak (8), have won 14-of-15 and beat the regular season GSAC champions, Westmont, by double digits to end the regular season as the GSAC’s hottest team.
Briana Hall led the team with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting as the Cougars finished 43.2 percent from the floor. Rebecca Roehrkasse tallied 14 points and buried all six of her free throws, while Maddy Barrett had a near double-double with eight points and nine rebounds. And while the Cougars were effective offensively it was their rebounding that they can thank for their extra 10-shot attempts.
Azusa Pacific registered 25 second-chance points compared to the Sunbirds’ four and out-rebounded Fresno Pacific(14-17) by 29 (61-32) behind a record-breaking performance from Amber Williams as she broke the school’s 26-year old single-season rebounding mark. Williams, who posted her 21st double-double in the first half, pulled down 15 boards in the win as she surpassed Cindy DeYoung on the single-season list with her 387th rebound of the season.
“I knew that I was close, but I didn’t know that I was that close or that I would get it tonight,” said the senior center. “Rebounding is all about effort. It’s exciting and it felt great.”
“It’s awesome. To have somebody on our team that’s broken that record [means a lot],” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “It speaks to the longevity of her to come to play every night.”
The Cougars, who have out-rebounded opponents in all but two games, were dominant again as five players finished with five or more boards; a staple of this Azusa Pacific team.
“We’ve been talking about focusing on doing what we do best and playing hard on each possession. For us it’s been a good focus,” said Hardeman.
And what they did best tonight was controlling the inside, scoring 50 points in the paint while just giving up 18 against the three-guard lineup of Fresno Pacific. The Cougars defense, which set up a full court press early in the game, forced 22 turnovers, including 12 from Sunbird start Jenay Herring., leading to 25 points off turnovers for Azusa Pacific.
Nine Cougars registered a steal in the game, while Williams paced the team with three.
Fresno Pacific scored the first basket of the game, but a 10-0 run by Azusa Pacific put the Cougars up for good. Amanda Sims played sparingly as she dealt with a sickness, and was the only Cougar not to score a basket as the team showed off the end of its depth. Cara Bomar nailed her first 3-pointer of the season, while Whitley Brown knocked down a triple late in the game.
Cherie Hughes led Azusa Pacific in assists with three, while Annie Fredrickson, Emily Nordberg, and Calli Jackson each made the most of their time on the court with a combined 11 points and eight rebounds in under eight minutes of play.
With the win the Cougars advance to the second round of the GSAC tournament as they host No. 11 Vanguard after the Lions posted an easy win over Point Loma Nazarene. The two teams split the regular season with each squad winning at home. The Cougars, however, played without Hall in the loss. The game time for Friday is set for 7:30 p.m.