OAKLAND, Calif.-- After having its hopes for a Pacific West Conference title dashed last week, the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team shifted its focus towards another goal: the National Christian College Athletics Association championship. On Saturday the Cougars took a huge step in the right direction towards achieving that, clinching the top seed in the NCCAA West Region with a 72-58 win over Holy Names to close out the regular season schedule.
”The NCCAA championship has always been a goal of ours, and after we were eliminated from the PacWest race we sort of shifted our focus on that. It was great for us to get a win like that today against a Holy Names team that played with a lot of passion on their senior day. It definitely bodes well for us moving forward in the NCCAA tournament,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman.
Azusa Pacific will face the winner of the Bethesda/Point Loma West Region semi on Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. in the Felix Event Center, and can advance to the NCCAA National Championships in Winona Lake, Ind. with a win.
The Cougars (18-8,16-4) and Hawks (10-16, 6-14) were neck and neck in the first half, with Azusa Pacific taking a six point lead into the break. But a 22-8 run to open the second half helped the Cougars separate from Holy Names, giving Azusa Pacific a 54-34 lead with 13:44 remaining, a deficit the Hawks never got back to within single digits.
Allison Greene and Kelly Hardeman each scored a team-high 17 points, with Hardeman posting a double-double after pulling in 10 rebounds. Greene scored 12 of her 17 in the second half, shooting 3-for-4 in the final 20 minutes while recording three second half steals.
Sendy Valles added 10 points, eight of which came in the second frame, while Katie Powell scored six, sinking two of her three shots from beyond the arc. Lisha Elsenbach scored eight points and nailed all four of her shots to help the Cougars to a 21-5 advantage in bench points, and Maggie Dumphy chipped in with seven points and three blocks.
The Azusa Pacific defense held Holy Names to 32.8 percent shooting, and outside of a Trio of Hawks that combined for 52 points, no other Holy Names player scored more than one basket, a group that tallied just six points on 2-of-20 shooting. Sonia Aguilar scored a game-high 22 points, while Brittany Machado-Potestio and Renique Fitzpatrick finished with 11 and 19 points respectively.
In the first half the Cougars and Hawks traded leads twice, and were tied at five different points in the first 20 minutes. Holy Names grabbed a 12-9 lead on an Aguilar trey, but Azusa Pacific responded with a Hardeman layup and free throw to knot the score at 12-12 before a Hardeman jumper gave the Cougars a 14-12 advantage.
Holy Names tied the score back up at 14-14 with Isabelle Ayad’s lone bucket of the game, but a Powell 3-pointer put Azusa Pacific ahead 17-14, a lead Azusa Pacific held throughout the balance of the day. The Cougars led by as many as seven in the first half before taking a 32-26 lead into the break.
In the second half Azusa Pacific outshot the Hawks 46.6 percent to 32.8, stretching its edge to 20 points on two seprate occasions before sealing a 72-58 victory.
The win gave the Cougars a first round bye in the three-team NCCAA West Region tournament, with Azusa Pacific slated to face the winner of Monday’s semifinal between Point Loma and Bethesda. The Cougars lost both of their meetings against the Sea Lions this season, and have yet to face Bethesda.