AZUSA, Calif.-- The Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team overcame a 12-point deficit, but couldn’t hold on as 23rd-ranked (NCAA Division III ) George Fox (Ore.) posted a 68-65 win in game-two of the Azusa Pacific Invitational on Tuesday night. The Cougars, who were playing in their first home game of the season, had a chance to tie the game in its final two possessions, but settled for a pair of failed desperation 3-pointers.
For Azusa Pacific’s offense it was a tale of two halves. In the first the Cougars managed just 24 points on 10-27 shooting, primarily from the outside, as the team had trouble dissecting the Bruins’ zone. But in the second, led by Sulliavn Ziegler’s penetration, sharp-shooting from Amanda Sims, and a heavy dose of feeding the ball inside, Azusa Pacific was able to not only erase a 12-point margin, but assume a four-point edge midway through the second frame.
“We were so tentative in the first half. We didn’t attack really at all, so at halftime I told the girls to get more inside out with our sets. Once we started going inside they collapsed and it opened up the outside where Amanda and some of the other players made some shots,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “We had players knock down some big shot and had some good, balanced scoring. We just didn’t quite have enough to get over the hump.”
Sims scored a season-high 20 points, and drained all four of her 3-point shots until a desperation attempt late in the game. The senior guard went 6-for-10 from the field and scored six straight points to turn a nine-point deficit into three with just over a minute and a half to play in what was easily her best game of the year.
“We encourage her to shoot. We run plays to get her the ball and have been telling her to shoot and so she did that tonight and made some big plays. Amanda’s always going to play 100 percent. She pushes and demands a lot of herself and she’s such a good example for the other players on the team,” said Hardeman.
Ziegler dished out a season-high nine assists, six of which came in the second half when the Cougars attacked the Bruins’ zone. The sophomore point guard also added four points and two steals, and continued to find the open shooter, helping the Cougars to nail nine treys (9-for-22). But even with the Cougars’ second-half surge, they couldn’t overcome George Fox’s size.
The Bruins, who out-rebounded Azusa Pacific 30-25, held a staggering 44-16 advantage on points in the paint. 6-3 Megan Hays poured in a career-high 21 points to go with nine rebounds, while forwards Hannah Munger and Dacia Heckendorf added 12 points apiece on the block.
Cougar forwards Kelly Hardeman and Hannah Kenny combined for 25 points, with Hardeman pacing the team with seven rebounds and four steals. Hardeman sank three triples and had a game-high three offensive boards, while Kenny chipped in with two assists and a block. Morgann Ellis was solid off the bench, tallying six points on a pair of makes from beyond the arc.
Azusa Pacific opened the game hot out of the gate, taking a 10-3 lead on back-to-back threes from Hardeman and Sims. But an 11-2 run from George Fox put the Cougars down 13-14 at the 11-minute mark. The Cougars reassumed the lead after Lauren Gilster scored one of her two layups on the night. But a 15-2, six-minute spree from the Bruins, which included eight points from Hays, gave George Fox a 29-17 edge. The Cougars were able to shave it to seven before going into the break trailing 31-24.
In the second half Azusa Pacific looked different from the get-go despite having the Bruins go up by 11. Hardeman opened the scoring after forward Calli Jackson found her on the outside for a three. The Cougars then went inside to Kenny, who was fouled on an attempted layup. Kenny converted both free throws before scoring on a layup on the following possession to make it a six-point game.
Azusa Pacific made its next four shots, three of which were off of assists, to take its first lead since early in the opening half with 14:06 to play. Ziegler extended the advantage to 44-41 on a coast-to-coast driving lay-in.
A 9-0 run gave George Fox a seven-point lead on a Heckendorf triple, and from that point on the Cougars were unable to get back on top. Sims pulled Azusa Pacific to within three, giving the team hope in its final two possessions. But after passing the ball around the perimeter the Cougars couldn’t get off an open look, falling to the Bruins 68-65.
Azusa Pacific finished with a 44.6 percent shooting clip in the game, and only committed 12 turnovers while forcing 18. The Cougars will return to the court on Wednesday when they face Cal Poly Pomona in the final game of the Invite.