AZUSA, Calif.-- It wasn’t pretty, but it sure was a sight to see. The Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team struggled to score all night, but got a basket when it needed it most when Amanda Sims’ jumper with 11 seconds to play lifted the Cougars to a 55-54 lead before Sullivan Ziegler’s steal on the other end sealed a narrow victory over Cal Poly Pomona (3-6). And while it won’t be seen on ESPN Classic anytime soon, it had all the makings of a definitive performance from a team that needed something positive to hang its hat on going into a two week break.
Azusa Pacific, which was playing in just its second home game of the year, gutted out its third victory of the season, in an ugly, choppy game that had about as much flow as a rock. There were nearly as many fouls as made baskets, and both squads combined to turn the ball over 36 times. But in the end the Cougars executed down the stretch, and earned the much needed victory.
“This was a huge win for us. It’s a great momentum booster and confidence booster going into the break,” said Sims. “Last night I felt like I let my team down, so tonight I wanted to make sure we got a good shot to give us a chance to win. Coach drew up a play, and said to take the first good look we got.”
On the game-winning play Ziegler beat the Broncos’ press and found Sims streaking down the middle. Ziegler delivered Sims the ball, before Sims took two dribbles, pulled up, and buried a jumper from just inside the key with 11 seconds to play. On the other end Cal Poly Pomona had its chance at the win taken away when Ziegler tabbed the takeaway before running out the clock.
“It was nice to see us fight through some adversity and not buckle. I think we executed down the stretch and it was good to see the growth,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “They have a very good program, and our goal is to hang some of those NCAA Division II banners, so it was nice to come out here and get a win against them.”
There were eight ties and five lead changes, two of which came in the final minute. Azusa Pacific pushed its 53-52 edge to three when Hannah Kenny nailed a runner in the lane to beat the shot clock with just 1:38 to go. Cal Poly’s Jennifer Bryant shaved it to one before Ashley Boggs sank two free throws to give the Broncos their first lead since the 7:50 mark. Then with 21 seconds left and the ball on the baseline Azusa Pacific passed it in to Ziegler, who got it to Sims for the game-winning play.
Kenny registered a double-double, scoring 18 points to go with 13 rebounds, while Sims finished with 14 points, four assists, four rebounds and a steal. Kelly Hardeman rounded out the few strong offensive nights for Azusa Pacific, tallying 11 points and nine rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.
The Cougars puled in 17 offensive rebounds, and out-boarded the Broncos 40-33. Cal Poly’s J.J. Judge, who scored 36 points against Point Loma on Tuesday after going 8-for-8 from beyond the arc, was held to just 10 points. Azusa Pacific’s defense kept Cal Poly Pomona in check all night, allowing the Broncos to shoot just 33.3 percent in the game, including 25.9 percent in the second half. Cal Poly Pomona went only 2-of-12 from 3-point range, but made 18-of-27 free throws compared to just 9-of-10 for Azusa Pacific.
The Cougars were aggressive on the boards early on, pulling in nine offensive rebounds in the first 10 minutes, thanks in large part to dreadful shooting. Azusa Pacific opened the game 1-for-13, and went on a stretch of 10 straight misses before Annie Fredrickson broke the skid with her first basket of the season to make it a 14-8 contest. Judge made her ninth consecutive triple of the Invite to make it a 21-12 score.
Sims and Tianna Jones each sank jumpers and Hardeman’s put-back tied it at 21-21, forcing Bronco coach Danelle Bishop to call a timeout and give the fans in attendance a rare glimpse of in-game training when she had her team run sprints for the entirety of the 30-second break.
Kenny gave Azusa Pacific its first lead of the game on a layup off of an inbounds pass from Calli Jackson with 3:46 to go in the half. A Fredrickson put-back closed the frame with an 18-5 Cougar run, giving Azusa Pacific a 30-26 lead after 20 minutes of play.
In the second half each team struggled to get the ball in the hoop, accounting for 11 total points through the first 10 minutes. Azusa Pacific grabbed its biggest lead of the game on a Kenny layup with 6:45 left, making it 44-38. Cal Poly Pomona fought back to cut it to as little as one twice and went ahead on free throws with 21 seconds to play before Sims drained the game-winner.
Katie Powell scored four points, and chipped in with two rebounds and two steals, while Fredrickson had a season-high four points. Ziegler dished out three assists and Jones finished with two points, two steals, two rebounds, and a steal.
The Cougars will return to play on Jan. 5 when they take on Fresno Pacific in their second Pacific West game of the season.