ST. GEORGE, Utah-- In the first-ever meeting between the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team and Dixie State the Cougars overcame a late surge to defeat a Red Storm squad that was atop the Pacific West standings. In the Second meeting Azusa Pacific utilized its full court press to jump out to an early lead and never looked back, posting a 73-62 victory to end its brief two game skid and post its first PacWest road win in Burns Arena.
The Cougars (7-8, 4-3 PacWest), who led for 39 of the 40 minutes, forced 20 turnovers and despite not having a particularly great night from the field, had four players finish in double figures for only the second time this season. Hannah Kenny led the way with a 20-point, 11-rebound performance, while Sullivan Ziegler and Maddy Barrett each recorded season highs in points with 15 and 16 respectively.
“I thought we had very balanced scoring from four of our starters. I felt we had different players step up throughout the game,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “I thought defensively we did a good job of making them work for it. A lot of the turnovers we forced were because of our press, but a lot came from our zone...from being long and active. We did what we wanted to do. We didn’t shoot the ball great at all, but getting to the free throw line and attacking was a huge key.”
Azusa Pacific finished with a 33.8 percent clip from the floor, and buried only 4-of-22 shots from beyond the arc, but were the aggressors all evening, earning 24 trips to the free throw line compared to just nine for Dixie State (8-9, 6-3 PacWest). And even though free throws have been a struggle for Azusa Pacific all year, the team took advantage of the charity stripe, sinking an uncharacteristically high 21 free throws (87.5 percent) after combining to hit only 62.7 percent from the line prior to Saturday’s win.
The Cougars’ concentrated effort saw 94.5 percent of the offense coming through its top-four scorers. Starters Kelly Hardeman, Ziegler, Barrett, and Kenny combined for 69 of the team’s 73 points, with fellow starter Amanda Sims accounting for the other four. The Cougars didn’t get any buckets from its bench, and outside of the four double-digit scorers went 0-for-17 from the field.
Sims, who had an off-night, still managed to contribute with a season-high 11 rebounds (seven offensive) and two assists. Ziegler, the PacWest’s assist leader, dished out a game-high seven assists to go with five steals and eight rebounds.
“I thought it was easily Sullivan’s best game if the year for us. She did well distributing and getting after it. She made great decisions and when she plays well it opens it up for everyone else,” said Hardeman.
Hardeman nailed four treys in the win, and pulled in seven rebounds off the glass as she scored 18 points. Barrett, who scored seven quick points in the second half to keep the Red Storm at bay, tallied 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting (4-4 on free throws) before fouling out.
The victory was the Cougars’ first road win in conference action after Azusa Pacific lost a heartbreaker to California Baptist last week, and fell to Grand Canyon on Monday afternoon.
“One of the things we have to do is learn to travel with purpose and focus. We need to make sure we honor our hard work, and I thought we did a good job of being focused today. That was pleasing to see because I know that’s a step in the right direction,” said Hardeman. “People are figuring out what their roles are... they’ve embraced that. There are things we want them to do more, but they’re doing a great job.”
Dixie State shot 39.7 percent from the floor, and finished with a 27.8 percent clip from deep. Kenny, who went 8-of-16 in the game, also tabbed two blocks, two steals, and two assists. Sims buried all four of her free throw attempts to total four points, while she finished with two assists.
At the beginning of the game Dixie State opened the scoring to take a quick 2-0 lead, but the Cougars responded with an 11-0 run to take control in the early going thanks to its pressure defense. Barrett and Kenny combined to score the team’s first 13 points before Hardeman sank a triple to give Azusa Pacific a 16-9 edge. Minutes later the freshman forward hit another shot from deep to give the Cougars their second 10-point lead of the day with the score 24-14 at the 9:15 mark.
The two teams traded baskets over the final 10 minutes of the half as the Cougars took a 38-31 lead into the break. In the second half Barrett accounted for seven of the first 12 points and Azusa Pacific eventually stretched the lead to 12 points with 15:03 to play. The Red Storm were able to bring it to within 10 points three times, and cut it to as little as six points with 48 seconds to play, but that was as close as they would get after Ziegler ended any hopes of a comeback with a pair of free throws.
The win was the Cougars’ seventh in the past 10 games, and moves them to within two games in the loss column of first place in the PacWest standings. Azusa Pacific will return to the Felix Event Center for a home tilt against Holy Names on Wednesday night. Tipoff is slated for 5:30 p.m.