AZUSA, Calif.-- They might not have mastered the first 30 minutes, but they sure have the final 10 down pat. For the second game in a row the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team looked up to a sizeable deficit midway through the second half, and for the second time in as many games the Cougars closed strong to end their four game home stand with a 73-62 victory over Dominican on Wednesday night.
The Cougars trailed by as many as nine points in the second frame, but rallied to outscore the Penguins (5-16, 4-9 PWC) 25-14 in the final 10 minutes of action behind a balanced team effort on both sides of the court. Azusa Pacific utilized its full-court press to force 21 Dominican turnovers, got three double-digit scorers, and outmuscled the taller Penguin lineup to out-rebound Dominican 47-32 (18-9 on offense). The Cougars scored 17 points off of the Penguins’ 21 giveaways, and added 13 second chance points to win their eighth consecutive contest in the Felix Event Center.
“Tonight the difference was that we never quit. We played hard and eventually our hustle and determination paid off,” said head Coach T.J. Hardeman. “Our players don’t give up, they don’t get discouraged and that’s huge. When you keep the pressure on the other team eventually gets tired of it, so it’s almost a test of wills. When we made our run you could see they were having a lapse in their decision making and that’s when our team smelled the blood and went after it. That’s the mark of a really good team.”
Each of Azusa Pacific’s starters recorded steals in the game, with Kelly Hardeman leading the way with four. Sophomore forward Maddy Barrett continued to perform in all facets of the game, notching three takeaways, nine rebounds, and six assists. Hannah Kenny nabbed her second straight 20-point performance, finishing with 20 on 8-of-12 shooting, while Hardeman chipped in with 17 points and nine rebounds.
The Penguins and Cougars were about even on the night from the field, with Azusa Pacific holding a slight edge at 44.6 percent. The victory, which puts Azusa Pacific into a tie with California Baptist at third in the Pacific West standings, elevates the Cougars to 10-0 when scoring 60+ points.
Early in the second half the Penguins grabbed their biggest lead of the night on a fastbreak layin to make it a 41-30 game. Dominican’s edge fell to as few as one before it went up 48-43 with a little over 10 minutes to play. The Cougars, who overcame a 14-point deficit on Monday night, were at it again, scoring on a 3-pointer from Hardeman to kick start a 21-5 spree that included six Penguin turnovers against the Cougar press.
In the run five different players scored to give Azusa Pacific a 64-53 advantage with just under four minutes to play. Barrett later gave the Cougars their biggest lead of the night (73-60) on a pair of free throws before Azusa Pacific posted the 11-point victory.
The Cougars were cold to open the game, finding themselves in an 8-0 hole after committing five quick turnovers. Azusa Pacific gave the ball away 12 times in the first 20 minutes of action to go into the break trailing 34-29. The Cougars committed only seven turnovers in the second half, while forcing 13 against the Penguins.
The Cougars, who have played eight of their previous 11 games at home, will travel to Fresno Pacific on Saturday before making their first Pacific West trek to Hawai’i for a four-game slate. In the trip Azusa Pacific will have a chance to move up in the standings when it takes on second place Hawai’i Pacific on Feb. 16 for the program’s first ever meeting against the Sea Warriors.