AZUSA, Calif.-- They say it’s hard to beat a team three times, but in Thursday’s National Christian College Athletics Association West Region final, it didn’t seem like California Baptist cared much about keeping clichés alive. The Lancers held the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team to just five second-half field goals, and forced 22 turnovers in their third defeat of the Cougars, ending Azusa Pacific’s 2012-13 campaign one win away from the NCCAA championships with a 64-53 win.
CBU (22-5), which had both blown out and escaped with an overtime victory over the Cougars this season, found some middle ground with an 11-point win, erasing Azusa Pacific’s brief five-point first half advantage to lead for nearly the remainder of the night.
The Cougars tied the game once in the second half, and were within three points with just under five minutes to play, before California Baptist closed the game on an 11-3 run to advance to the NCCAA championships next week in Winona, Ind.
“There isn’t anything to be ashamed about. They’re a good team, the PacWest champs, and they played well tonight. Obviously we turned it over too much to be effective offensively, and with heads up play we could have been a lot better,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman.
“We improved a lot over the year, met a lot of our goals, but not all of them. It’s always tough to have your season end, but that’s the nature of college athletics. I’m excited for next season, we have a lot to build on.”
Azusa Pacific (16-10) shot 34 percent from the field, and struggled in the second half with a 23.8 percent clip (5-for-21). The Cougars coughed up the ball 14 times over the final 20 minutes, and made just one 3-point shot in seven second-half tries.
Hannah Kenny, who was named to the All-PacWest team earlier in the day, finished with a team-high 14 points, while PacWest Freshman of the Year, Kelly Hardeman added seven, with five rebounds. Maddy Barrett scored 11 points, and pulled down seven boards.
Simone Holmes went 9-for-9 from the line and tallied a game-high 20 points, while Myriah Hicks scored 10 of her 13 points in the second frame to lead the Lancers to the win. CBU shot 43.1 percent on the night and dominated inside with a 24-10 scoring advantage.
With 4:47 on the clock Kenny hit a pair of free throws to bring the score to 53-50 in CBU’s favor. But the Lancers responded with a pair of free throws on the other end, got a layup from Hicks, and a trey from Lesley Vodicska to push the lead back to double digits with 2:30 to play. A Morgann Ellis 3-pointer cut it to seven, but that was as close as Azusa Pacific would get.
The loss ends the Cougars’ impressive season, in which they rebounded from a rough start to contend for a conference crown until the final week of the regular season. Azusa Pacific also saw Hardeman blossom into an all-conference player, and Kenny develop from a solid contributor, to a PacWest Player of the Year candidate heading into next season. Azusa Pacific will return four of its five-leading scorers, and its three of its top-four rebounders.
“I think we got a lot better as the year went on. We played an ambitious schedule early on because we see ourselves as a national contender every year. We were very young so it was tough for us, but a lot of our close wins down the stretch stemmed from those tough early season games,” said Hardeman.
“It was great to see the development of some of our players. Hannah turned into our go-to scorer, and to see Kelly do what she did as a freshman is nice. And then when we got Maddy back we added another dimension, so we have a lot going into next season.”
Amanda Sims scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in her final game, while Ellis added three triples in her finale. Sullivan Ziegler, who led the PacWest in assists in the regular season, dished out two assists and grabbed three rebounds and a steal.