AZUSA, Calif.-- Hannah Kenny and the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team were slowly seeing their seven-game home winning streak creep to an end. With the junior forward watching from the sideline in foul trouble, Academy of Art University extended a four point lead into double-digits, with the Cougars doing nothing but helping the Knights’ cause in a turnover-filled spurt that exposed Azusa Pacific’s youth. But in the midst of what was heading towards a rout something clicked, and the Cougars calmly erased a 14-point deficit before reclaiming the lead and holding on for a dramatic 74-73 win on Monday night.
On the final Cougar possession Maddy Barrett hit the second of two free throws to give the Urban Knights (14-7, 7-4 PWC) the ball trailing by a point with just under 29 seconds to play. ART U worked the ball around, but couldn’t get an open look, forcing a deep 3-pointer from Zoie Sheng that clanked off the front of the rim. The Knights retained possession with 0.4 seconds to play, but couldn’t get off a look as Azusa Pacific extended its Pacific West Conference home winning streak to six games.
“I thought we grew up a lot in the game. We had an early lead, we saw it disappear, and we weren’t able to catch them for a long time. But we stayed at it and stayed at it and eventually got there. It was like a heavy weight fight, and I was just happy we were resilient,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman following his team’s 10th win in its last 14 games after opening the season with an 0-4 mark. “I think when you have a young team you have to continue to get better and better and we’ve done that. It’s been great to see us gain that maturity from our young players, and that really helped us tonight.”
The Cougars led by as many as nine points in the first half, but ART U outpaced them 38-15 over the next 20 minutes of action to assume a 14-point edge midway through the second thanks in large part to 20 Cougar turnovers. But Azusa Pacific systematically shaved into the Knights’ lead, cutting it to four points on a pair of free throws from Katie Powell. Amanda Sims then made it a two-point game with 4:15 to go, and Kelly Hardeman gave the Cougars their first lead of the second half on her second 3-pointerof the night.
From then on the teams traded two leads and saw the score knotted twice before Barrett put Azusa Pacific up for good. Kenny scored 13 second half points despite spending much of the period in foul trouble. The forward scored 11 of the team’s final 19 points over the last seven minutes of action, to finish with a career-high 25 points. Kenny also logged a career-high 16 rebounds on the night to register her fourth double-double of the season. Hardeman matched her career-mark with 23 points to go with three blocks, while Barrett grabbed 10 rebounds, and added four assists and two steals.
The Cougars made 17 of their 22 free throws, with Hannah (9-for-9) and Hardeman (5-for-7) accounting for 14.
“We missed some free throws at the end, but did well in the game. I thought there were some huge contributions, whether it was Maddy’s rebounding or Kelly’s shooting. It was just a total team effort,” said Hardeman. “We stepped up defensively in the end. I thought the key tonight was our ball pressure. We built our early lead with it, and came back with it.”
Azusa Pacific forced 12 second-half turnovers after getting ART U to cough the ball up just four times in the first 20 minutes. Sullivan Ziegler, who dished out six assists, led the team with three steals. The Knights turned the ball over eight times during the Cougars’ comeback, and gave the ball away five times in the final five minutes of action.
Academy of Art had three players finish in double-figures, with Jordan Rogers leading the way with 14. Katy Wade recorded four blocks on the night, and six Knights logged two or more steals. The victory was Azusa Pacific’s second of the season when allowing 60+ points, and seventh in a row at home. Azusa Pacific is now just three games out of first place in the Pacific West standings, trailing NCAA II No. 14 Grand Canyon (10-1) and Hawai’i Pacific (8-2).
The Cougars will close their current four-game home stand on Wednesday night when they take on Dominican for a 5:30 p.m. tip. Azusa Pacific will then travel to Fresno Pacific on Saturday before traveling to Hawai’i for four games.