LA MIRADA, Calif.-- On Saturday the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team suffered one of its worst losses in years, falling to Point Loma in the Pacific West Conference opener. On Monday the Cougars responded in impressive fashion, posting a convincing 51-36 win over NAIA No. 12 ranked Biola behind a healthy mix of effort and defense, and a 23-point outburst from freshman Kelly Hardeman.
The Cougars held Biola to just 11 first-half points and built a 19-point cushion after Hardeman scored 23 of the team’s 28 points in a 17-minute span, while the stifling Azusa Pacific defense, led by Hannah Kenny and Calli Jackson, gave the Eagles fits on the inside.
The Cougars held a double-digit lead for the majority of the night and when Biola (4-4) cut the deficit to 10 points to ignite the crowd of 450, sophomore point guard Sullivan Ziegler hushed the home fans with driving and-1 layups on back-to-back possessions to seal the Cougar win. The victory was the team’s second of the year, and concluded Azusa Pacific’s seven-game road trip to open the season.
“It was awesome because it was such a team-win. You could point to four different players tonight and say they were the hero. We’ve been on the road all year and this was as hard a place to play as any, so for a young team to come out and put aside some of the hindrances, some of the things that could get us unfocused, was really good to see,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman.
“Defensively Calli and Hannah did a great job against their bigs. Sullivan had another good night, and she’s really had to take on a lot this year so that was good to see. And Kelly shot really well. Coming off a loss I thought we played really hard and it was a much better representation of us as a team.”
Neither offense fared particularly well, with each team tallying more turnovers than field goals, but the Cougars were able to utilize the hot hand in Hardeman, who drained five 3-pointers and finished 7-of-15 from the floor. The freshman scored the final 11 points for the Cougars in the first half, and accounted for 12 of the first 17 in the second half to help Azusa Pacific push its lead to as many as 19.
“I didn’t expect to come in right away and contribute this way. It’s really fun working with a team that knows where to find me. We needed that win. It was a confidence booster. I think we really pulled it together and were there for each other,” said Kelly Hardeman.
Hardeman also helped the Azusa Pacific defense hold the Eagles to the fewest points in the 77 meetings between the two teams with a pair of blocks and eight rebounds. Kenny and Jackson contained Biola’s post players and led a defensive charge that saw the Eagles finish with a 30.6 percent clip from the floor. Jackson pulled in eight boards to go with two steals and a block, while Kenny chipped in with a block and six rebounds. The duo also combined for 11 points.
The Cougars out-rebounded Biola 42-29, and held a 16-6 edge in offensive boards. Azusa Pacific also found a way to overcome one of their early season woes, going 16-20 from the line, including 11-straight to start the game after posting a 51 percent mark from the stripe through the first six games.
Ziegler dished out five assists on the night, and helped the Cougars keep the Eagles at bay with a pair of key buckets in crunch time. After Biola shaved the Azusa Pacific lead to 45-35 Ziegler received a backdoor pass from Kenny and drove it in for a layup plus the foul. On the following possession she creased the Eagle defense and spun in a layup off the backboard to beat the shot-clock and end any thoughts of a Biola comeback. The sophomore finished with eight points, five rebounds and a steal, and was just one of three Cougars to notch at least three field goals.
Amanda Sims added six points on 3-of-7 shooting, and grabbed four rebounds to go with a steal. The Cougars will have two weeks off before returning to the court when they host the Azusa Pacific Invitational on Dec. 18-19 for their first home games of the season.