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Caging The Sunbirds

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Photo by Ken Williams
Azusa Pacific's pressure defense forced the Sunbirds into 25 turnovers.

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Published
January 5, 2013
By
Chris Baker
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AZUSA, Calif.-- The Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team kicked off 2013 in a big way, posting its biggest win of the season in a 59-42 defeat of Fresno Pacific on Saturday afternoon in the Felix Event Center. The Cougars had their best defensive performance of the year, utilizing the full court press to the tune of 25 turnovers while holding Fresno Pacific (0-12) to a 26.3 percent clip from the floor to improve to 4-6 this season.

Offensively Azusa Pacific showed off a balanced attack, having six players with six or more points, including double-digit efforts from Hannah Kenny and Kelly Hardeman. The Cougars established the post early on with freshman Lauren Gilster, which opened up the outside, where sophomore Katie Powell drained three triples.

Kenny led all players with 12 points, and boasted the game’s lone double-double with 11 rebounds. Kenny added four steals and a block, and finished 4-of-8 from the field. Hardeman totaled 11 points, nearly getting a double-double with eight rebounds. The win was the team’s fourth in the last six contests after the Cougars opened the season 0-4.

“We’ve got girls that can post up and that was our idea to go inside and establish that to open up the outside. We didn’t do that great from the outside, but we want to be balanced. If you have just one or two people scoring you’re not going to be good,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman after his team kept the Sunbirds winless on the year. “Their record isn’t indicative of how good they are. They have plenty of skill and we didn’t take them lightly at all. We’re starting to get to where we want. We had a really tough schedule, much of it on the road, and I think that toughened us up.”

Point guard Sullivan Ziegler dished out a game-high seven assists, and kept the Fresno Pacific defense off balance with her penetration. The sophomore guard also highlighted the Cougars’ dominant defensive effort, swiping five steals in Azusa Pacific’s full-court press. The Cougars tabbed 15 steals and forced 25 turnovers, leading to 19 points off turnovers.

“We knew we were going to be rusty with our execution offensively. But we know defense is all effort, so I wanted to put us in a position where if we didn’t play well defensively we would look bad. We played hard defensively and that really jump started us offensively,” said Hardeman.

Azusa Pacific gave up just six second half field goals and the Sunbirds shot a dreadful 23.1 percent over the final 20 minutes as the Cougars shook off the rust after a two-week break from action. The Cougar defense also limited the Pacific West’s leading scorer, Keairra White, to only seven points; well off her season average of 20.5. No Fresno Pacific player reached the 10-point plateau, with Sienna Gonzales pacing the way with eight points. It was the first time this year that someone other than White or Charde Stevens led the Sunbirds in points.

Azusa Pacific took an early 10-4 lead, but Fresno Pacific went on a 10-0 run to take its largest edge in the game, leading 14-10 with 10:39 to play in the opening half. The Cougars responded with a 15-4 spree after two nice inside plays from Gilster where the freshman overpowered the Sunbird defense. Amanda Sims scored four of her six points in the run, while Hardeman and Powell each nailed a three. The Cougars never trailed from then on, and went into the break leading 30-26.

Kenny opened the second frame with a basket before Fresno Pacific responded with a free throw and a trey from Kayla Clement. Clement paced the Sunbirds with eight rebounds. A triple from Hardeman pushed the lead to 35-30 and ignited a 16-5 run that saw Kenny score seven points. Maddy Barret, who was making her first appearance of the season, had five points in the spree, and finished her season opener with seven points and six boards.

Azusa Pacific held a double-figure lead throughout the rest of the game, and closed the contest with its largest margin, winning 59-42 to nab their first back-to-back win of the year. Tianna Jones recorded four points, three assists, and two rebounds in the victory. The Cougars out rebounded the Sunbirds 47-39, and shot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Azusa Pacific returns to action on Tuesday when they face Point Loma for the second time this season. The Sea Lions crushed the Cougars 61-42 in San Diego on Dec. 3 in each of the teams’ first ever PacWest game. The contest is slated for 5:30 in the Felix Event Center.