WINONA LAKE, Ind.--They’ve had a knack for performing in the big games, and that was no more evident than Wednesday when the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team opened up the National Christian College Athletics Association tournament with a dominating 75-42 win over Emmanuel in the quarterfinals. The No. 3 seeded Cougars, who advanced to the program’s third Final Four with the victory, controlled the game on both ends of the floor, holding the Lions to a touch under 26 percent shooting, while knocking down over 50 percent of their shots to setup a potential rematch of the 2010 and 2011 NAIA title games against Union (Tenn.) on Thursday.
“That first game is obviously very critical, so I was excited to see our girls ready to play from the get-go. Everything was working for us. We felt sharp, we looked sharp, and we executed. I thought both offensively and defensively we took them out of their game plan,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman, who led the Cougars to the NAIA championship in 2011.
Azusa Pacific had four players in double figures, with Kelly Hardeman pouring in a game-high 14 points. Allison Greene added 12 points and eight assists, while Sendy Valles scored eight second half points to finish with 12 points and six rebounds.
“Early on they really focused on taking Sendy out of the game, so Kelly and Allison sort of took over. That’s been our strength all season. When you focus on one player, we have other weapons that can hurt you, and that really showed today,” said Hardeman.
Greene and Hardeman each had 12 first half points to give Azusa Pacific (20-8) a 39-16 lead at the half. The Cougars held Emmanuel to 22.6 percent shooting in the first frame, including a 1-of-9 clip from 3-point range as Azusa Pacific led from start to finish.
Katie Powell scored seven second half points, and totaled 10 points after nailing two shots from beyond the arc. Eleven different Cougars scored in the game, with Annie Fredrickson tabbing seven points off the bench. Maggie Dumphy finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Cara Bomar, one of two remaining active players from Azusa Pacific’s 2011 NAIA championship team (Fredrickson), nailed a 3-pointer in the second half, and sophomore Lauren Gilster added four points in a game where Azusa Pacific held a 22-16 edge in points in the paint.
Azusa Pacific jumped out to an early 10-0 lead on a triple from Greene in the opening minutes, and after Emmanuel countered with a 10-2 run, the Cougars regained a 10-point lead with an 8-0 run. The Lions got to within eight points halfway through the half, but a 19-4 Cougar spree over the balance of the half put Azusa Pacific ahead 39-16 at the break.
The Cougars pushed their lead to 31 points on a Gilster jumper with 11:55 on the clock, and a free throw from Elena Ala with 1:35 to go gave Azusa Pacific its biggest advantage of the day at 73-40.
With the victory Azusa Pacific advances to its third Final Four (all under Hardeman), with a likely matchup against Union on Thursday. Azusa Pacific has only won one meeting against the Lady Bulldogs in five tries, with each team grabbing wins in NAIA championship games.
“It will be a battle. The last time times we played was in the NAIA championships, so this this could be the rubber match for us, It’ll be fun to play them. They’re really good and we’re playing really well now, so it’ll be a good test,” said Hardeman.
Azusa Pacific and Union will tip at 5:15 (EST), and fans can follow all of the action here.