AZUSA, Calif.-- The last time Azusa Pacific lost in the Golden State Athletic Conference championship game the Cougars made a run for their first NAIA title in program history. After tonight’s 70-64 loss to No. 5 Westmont they’re hoping history can repeat itself.
The 12th-ranked Cougars gave up a nine-point lead and shot just 35.4 percent from the floor while the Warriors were significantly better with a 46.3 percent shooting clip. But despite Azusa Pacific’s uncharacteristically poor offense the team was still within striking distance as Briana Hall’s and-1 pulled the Cougars within three points with two minutes to play. But Westmont closed the game on a 9-5 run to put the Cougars away for the second time this season.
Hall registered a double-double with 11 assists and a game-high 22 points. But the senior guard needed 24 shots and 14 free throws to get there. Amber Williams scored 13 to go with eight boards, while Rebecca Roehrkasse played one of her best games of the season, tallying 15 points and seven rebounds. She also buried the Cougars’ only 3-pointer of the night as Azusa Pacific hit just 1-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Katie Kittle, who killed the Cougars with 26 points in the Warriors’ 68-64 on November 29, was hot again as she nailed four treys to finish with a team-high 19 points. Westmont hit five threes in the game, and nailed four in a second half that saw the Warriors outscore Azusa Pacific by 11 (46-35).
GSAC Player of the Year Tugce Canitez recorded a double-double with 18 points and 12 boards while Lisa Peterson notched one of her own with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Westmont held a 30-20 scoring edge in the paint but scored just two second chance points while the Cougars had 15.
Azusa Pacific jumped out to a 12-3 lead (its largest of the game) after a pair of Hannah Kenny buckets and seven points from Hall and Williams. But a molasses-like three-minute stretch that included seven missed shots, pulled the Warriors to within three points at the 6:21 mark.
Roerhkasse ended the dry-spell with a bank from the middle of the lane before Hall responded to a Warrior triple by nailing two free throws to give the Cougars a 17-12 advantage. The two teams then traded baskets the rest of the half as Azusa Pacific went into the break with a lead (29-24) for the third time this year against Westmont.
In the first 20 minutes Hall scored 11 points and Roehrkasse added eight. The Cougars went 0-for-5 from 3-point range while the Warriors converted just one of their 11 shots from deep.
In the second half Westmont struck first with a basket, but Azusa Pacific responded with three straight layups to take its second nine-point lead of the game. The good times, however, would end there as the Warriors rattled off a 27-6 run that spanned 13 minutes of play to take control of the game with a 53-41 advantage.
The Cougars cut the deficit to as little as three points with two minutes to play, but couldn’t complete the comeback as the Warriors registered their second home win over Azusa Pacific this season.
The loss drops the Cougars to 6-6 in road tilts this season, while Westmont improved to 17-0 at home. Amanda Sims scored six points and pulled down five boards in the game, and Kenny finished with five points and three boards. The Cougars’ 9.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc was the team’s second worst outside shooting performance of the season. Hall’s 24 field goal attempts were the most for any Azusa Pacific player this year, and her six turnovers were one away from a season-high.
Azusa Pacific and Westmont now await their seedings for the NAIA national championships in Frankfort, Ky. The tournament is set to begin on March 14 with the championship game slated for the 20th.
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS (filmed & edited by Rob Small)