SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit in its Pacific West Conference opener, scoring 20 straight points to turn the game around in a 70-59 road win over Dominican Thursday evening in San Rafael.
Sophomore forward Kelly Hardeman scored 12 of her game-high 22 points after halftime, knocking down three consecutive three-pointers that gave the Cougars the lead for good during a 20-0 run over a stretch that lasted over eight minutes. Azusa Pacific was a perfect seven-for-seven from the field with four three-pointers and a pair of free throws in the run, leading to a red-hot 70 percent (16-for-23) second-half shooting performance.
“Shooting 70 percent always cures a lot of things, but what really changed the game was once we really focused on getting hands up on their shooters and doing a better job rebounding,” head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “In the PacWest, you’re not going to have a lot of success if you don’t bring your best effort every night, and Dominican certainly came out more ready to play than we did.”
Junior forward Sendy Valles added 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds, and Hardeman collected eight rebounds and three steals. Junior guard Allison Greene helped lead the second-half runaway, registering 12 of her 16 points, four of her five rebounds, all five of her assists and all three steals after halftime.
“This is a brand-new place for our team, but that’s no excuse for not playing hard,” said Hardeman, whose team was making its first PacWest visit to any the conference’s Bay Area schools Thursday. “That might have taken away from our focus a little bit, and it we’re a young team that needs to learn how to get better at keeping our focus.”
Hardeman scored 10 in the first half, and her five offensive rebounds in the period helped Azusa Pacific keep the halftime deficit to single digits. Dominican extended its 37-29 halftime lead to a nine-point edge at 40-31 with 16:37 left in the game, but the Penguins wouldn’t score again until Donielle Hair hit a three-pointer with just over eight minutes to play.
Valles hit a three-pointer that trimmed the lead to 40-35, and that’s when Hardeman took over with three straight treys that put Azusa Pacific in front, 44-40, with 11:37 remaining. A Maggie Dumphy layup extended the lead to six, and sophomore guard Elena Ala scored back-to-back breakaway layups before finishing off the run with a free throw that completed a three-point play that made it 51-40 with 10:17 to play.
“We wanted to keep running the floor in the second half, and that helped us get some easy baskets,” Hardeman said. “It was a good all-around effort from a lot of different people, which was really good to see this early in the season.”
The Cougars maintained at least an eight-point margin the rest of the way and extended the lead to as many as 15 points (64-49) on a Greene layup with 3:09 to play.
Defensively, Azusa Pacific allowed Dominican to hit 52 percent (15-for-29) from the field in the opening half before holding the Penguins scoreless during the crucial second-half turnaround by limiting them to just 24 percent (8-for-33) after halftime. No Dominican players reached double figures, with Jessy Marshall leading the Penguins scoring with nine points on a 3-of-13 shooting effort.
With the win, Azusa Pacific evens its overall record at 3-3 while improving to 1-0 in PacWest play, which continues when the Cougars visit Notre Dame de Namur University Saturday afternoon in Belmont.