LOS ANGELES, Calif.-- For one half the newest version of the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team looked poised to open the regular season with an upset victory on the road at Cal State Los Angeles. But in the other the Cougars, who are replacing a pair of NAIA All-Americans and three starters from last year’s NAIA quarterfinal run, looked like a team in search of its identity after seeing a four-point halftime deficit balloon to as many as 21 in a 79-65 loss to the Golden Eagles.
The Cougars committed 13 of their 24 turnovers in the second frame and Cal State L.A. (1-0) parlayed those Azusa Pacific miscues into 30 points, while dominating the paint with a 52-16 scoring advantage inside. Azusa Pacific shot just 35.7 percent from the field, and after going up 20-12 with 12:30 to go in the first half, allowed the Golden Eagles to score 25 of the next 38 points to take a 37-33 lead into the break before dominating the second half in their first victory of the season.
And while the sour taste of losing will put a damper on the 2012-13 opener, there were definitely a few positives the team came away with, most notably freshman Kelly Hardeman’s impressive collegiate debut. The forward scored a game-high 20 points, while burying six 3-pointers (just two off the program record), to go with six rebounds, three steals, a block, and an assist. Hardeman, who's shown a propensity to take the open shot in the preseason, had no signs of first-game jitters, draining four first half treys and adding one of the night’s few defensive highlights when she chased down Samantha Hansen for a fast-break swat.
Hannah Kenny was the only other Cougar to score in double figures, tallying 17 points while grabbing eight boards (five offensive). The junior forward shot an efficient 6-10 from the floor, and made five of her seven free throws.
The Cougars pulled down 19 offensive rebounds, leading to 24 second chance points, but couldn’t hold off the bulkier Golden Eagles in the post. Cal State L.A., which was picked to finish second (ahead of NCAA Division II 8th ranked UC San Diego) in the California Collegiate Athletic Association preseason coaches poll, racked up 52 points in the paint and held Azusa Pacific to just 16.
For the first eight minutes Azusa Pacific was the more aggressive team, playing with more energy and pulling down eight offensive rebounds to take a 20-12 advantage. But Cal State L.A. slowly took control of the game with a 16-4 run over the next seven minutes to make it a 28-24 contest before Calli Jackson tied it with a jumper and a pair of free throws. But that would be the last tie of the game as the Golden Eagles utilized a 23-6 run to put the Cougars away.
Azusa Pacific went 9-22 from beyond the arc, but finished with 14 fewer field goal attempts (70-56) to drop the team’s first season opener in the six seasons since head coach T.J. Hardeman took over. The Golden Eagles had four players score in double digits, and had their bench outscore the Cougars’ 36-14.
Sullivan Ziegler dished out six assists and pulled in four rebounds in her first game with the program, while Amanda Sims finished with seven points and two boards.
The Cougars will travel to Bellingham Wash. for the West Region Crossover Classic at Western Washington University this weekend. The Cougars will play the Vikings at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night before facing Seattle Pacific at 5 p.m. on Saturday.