AZUSA, Calif.-- After a torrid start that saw the Cougars grab a 22-4 lead, the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team survived an Argonaut comeback to record a 68-58 win over Notre Dame de Namur (3-16, 2-9 PWC) on Saturday afternoon. Azusa Pacific led by as many as 18 points in the first half, but were outscored 19-8 over the final eight minutes of the half to go into the break ahead by nine points.
The Cougars saw their once double-digit lead turn into a one-point deficit twice in the second half, but closed to post a 10-point victory, keeping the team’s home Pacific West record perfect (5-0), and giving the Cougars their first winning record of the season (9-8, 6-3 PWC).
“It was a very good start for us. We’ve talked about playing with intensity and passion and we did that in the beginning. Unfortunately we went away from that and they were good enough to make us pay,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “In the end we did a much better job of playing together. I thought Amanda played really well in all facets of the game, and I was happy with what our bigs did inside.”
Amanda Sims posted her second double-double of the season, scoring 17 points to go with a season-high 12 rebounds. The senior guard also dished out four assists and logged a steal. Azusa Pacific out-rebounded NDNU by 24 (52-28), and grabbed 23 offensive boards, leading to 18 second-chance points. All five of the Cougars’ starters finished with five or more rebounds, and center Lauren Gilster added five off the bench. The freshman also gave Azusa Pacific a spark in the second half with five points, two offensive boards, and a steal.
The Cougar offense, although inconsistent at times, moved the ball well, getting assists on 16 of its 21 makes, thanks in large part to Sullivan Ziegler’s game-high eight dishes. Three Cougars finished in double-figures, with Hannah Kenny adding 17, and Maddy Barrett registering her 15 points for her third straight game with 10+ points.
And while the Argonaut comeback exposed the Cougars’ youth, the team showed maturity with how it responded. After the Argos took a one-point lead on a 10-0 run to open the second frame, Azusa Pacific built back a double-digit edge with just under eight minutes to play, and never saw its lead dwindle below eight points over the remainder of the contest.
“You can do one of two things after losing a big lead. You can whine, pout, and feel sorry for yourself, or you can say, ‘Hey, let’s get it back.’ I was glad we didn’t sulk and we got back to what we needed to do,” said Hardeman, who didn’t call a timeout, opting to let his team work through NDNU’s run. “I was frustrated and I wanted them to figure it out on the court. We were making some bonehead plays out there. Once we decided to play together as a team we were fine, and I knew we would be.”
Notre Dame de Namur shot 54.5 percent in the second half after spending the majority of the first reeling under 20 percent to finish with a 35.3 percent mark from the field (18-51). Azusa Pacific finished with a 33.9 percent clip, and hit just 9-of-33 shots (27.3 percent) over the final 20 minutes of action. Both teams struggled to control possession, combining for 37 turnovers, with 20 coming from the Cougars.
Azusa Pacific opened the game with an 8-0 spurt, capped by Kelly Hardeman’s first 3-pointer of the day to force an Argonaut timeout. Out of the break the Argos got on the board with a layup, but the Cougars scored on the ensuing possession to ignite another spree after Kenny converted and and-1 lay-in. Azusa Pacific scored the next 12 points of the game to grab a commanding 20-2 lead, but the Argonauts closed the gap to go into the break trailing 32-23 despites Sims’ buzzer beating jumper.
In the second half NDNU scored 10 consecutive points to go up 33-32, and after a Kenny bucket, reassumed the edge 35-34 with 17:01 to go. Azusa Pacific then rattled off 11 of the next 14 points to grab a seven-point lead, and the Cougars again pushed it to double-digits with 7:52 to play on a free throw from Gilster. The Argos never cut the deficit to less than eight over the final seven minutes, helping Azusa Pacific secure its seventh straight home win.
The team also improved to 7-0 when holding an opponent below 60 points, and is above .500 for the first time this season after opening the year with an 0-4 record. Azusa Pacific will have a chance to extend its home streak on Monday night when it welcomes second place Academy of Art to the Felix Event Center for a 5:30 p.m. tip.