AZUSA, Calif.-- After going two weeks without playing a game, no one could blame the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team for being a little rusty. And while the Cougars weren’t entirely sharp on the offensive end, they more than made up for it in rebounds and defense, limiting Holy Names to 15 baskets on 60 attempts while out-boarding the Hawks 53-36 to improve to 4-0 (6-4) in Pacific West Conference action with a 76-51 win on Saturday afternoon.
Azusa Pacific was a moderate 45.2 percent (33-73) from the floor, but outworked the Hawks on both ends, forcing 20 turnovers and grabbing 23 offensive rebounds to earn a 73-60 shot disparity. The Cougar defense also held the PacWest’s No. 2 scoring offense to its lowest output of the season and limited the Hawks to just four 3-pointers on 18 shots.
“We haven’t played all year so we were a little rusty. But we knew that defense and rebounding were going to be key, and I thought we did a really good job in both areas. We made the hustle plays, and worked hard and it showed,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “They’re a streaky team. If they’re hot they can score a ton of points, so we wanted to make sure all of their looks were contested, and I think we did a good job with that.”
The Cougars gave up just five assists on 15 baskets, and held the up-tempo Hawks to only six fast break points. Azusa Pacific also tallied eight blocks, and 12 steals. And while the Cougar defense shined on Saturday, it’s offense certainly held its own thanks to one of the best all-around performances in Kelly Hardeman’s young career.
The Preseason PacWest Player of the Year tabbed game-highs in points, rebounds, blocks, and assists, and added two steals without committing a turnover. The sophomore, who typically does most of her damage from outside, missed a few outside looks and opted to work inside on Saturday, leading to 19 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, and three assists.
“Kelly is a shooter, and she realized her outside shot wasn’t working so she went inside. Offensively she does a good job, but what was most impressive today was that she was a beast on the boards,” said Hardeman. “She was so active, and as a leader her hard work is an inspiration. She makes everyone else feel like they need to play as hard as she does.”
The sophomore had a double-double by halftime, and helped Azusa Pacific record a 48-10 scoring advantage in the paint, and her seven offensive boards helped the Cougars post a 16-4 edge in second chance points.
Ten Cougars scored in the victory, with junior Sendy Valles matching Hardeman with 19 points as the only other Azusa Pacific player in double figures. Allison Greene and Annie Fredrickson each scored eight points, with Greene adding three assists, three steals, and four rebounds.
The Cougars were strong early, opening up an 11 point lead behind six points from Sullivan Ziegler, Hardeman, and Valles to give Azusa Pacific a 21-10 lead with 11 minutes to play in the opening frame. The Cougars, however, cooled down after shooting 10-of-19 through nine minutes, going 5-of-22 from the field over the balance of the half as Holy Names got within seven points four times.
In the second half Azusa Pacific opened on a 12-0 run to take a 22 point lead at 47-25 with 15:05 to play. The Cougars went ahead by as many as 27, and led for all but two minutes to stay perfect in PacWest play.
The Cougars will have a quick turnaround, returning to action when they host Notre Dame de Namur at 5:30 on Monday night before traveling to St. George for a tilt against Dixie State on Saturday.