FRESNO, Calif. -- With a big game looming next Tuesday against the nation’s top-team, Azusa Pacific needed to take care of business tonight against Fresno Pacific to ensure that it remained within striking distance of Vanguard.
Behind 5 players who scored in double figures, the NAIA’s No. 9-ranked Cougars did just that as they defeated the Sunbirds, 88-69, Thursday night, at the Special Events Center. It was the fifth consecutive victory for Azusa Pacific against Fresno Pacific.
Monica Somers and Lindsey West combined for 40 points on 14-for-24 shooting from the field in the win. West also had 15 rebounds in recording her third double-double of the season while Somers added 5 assists.
Azusa Pacific (15-4, 7-2) opened the game with a hot shooting first half and used a 7-0 run over the last 1:33 of the opening 20 minutes to break open the game after it had been tied for the ninth time.
Both teams went at each other from the outset as Fresno Pacific (4-13, 0-8), belying its record, came out and fought the Cougars every step of the way.
Early on, West found Sarah Leathers open on the perimeter as she knocked down a 3-point shot to put the Cougars up 10-7 early in the half.
However, the Sunbirds’ Denise Fast answered with a 3 of her own to tie the game at 10-10 and force head coach Danelle Liles to burn a timeout to get the Cougars’ defense reorganized. But the Cougars promptly turned the ball over and Fast drilled another triple as part of her big night to put Fresno Pacific up 13-10.
Fast finished the game with 25 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds.
Azusa Pacific then reclaimed the lead by scoring the game’s next 7 points. The run was capped off by Leathers, who nailed another 3 to make it a 17-13 contest. After hitting 7 triples in her last game against San Diego Christian, Leathers finished tonight with a pair of 3’s en route to 12 points.
The Sunbirds answered the Cougars spurt with baskets from Fast and Brooke Stanley, whose 3-pointer reclaimed the lead at 18-17.
It was that type of back-and-forth half before the Cougars were finally able to put some distance between themselves and the Sunbirds when they broke a 33-33 tie with their decisive run. With 1:33 remaining in the half, a trey by Crystal Jeanpierre sandwiched by hoops by Meliame Hala’ufia and Somers put the Cougars ahead, 40-33, to stay.
"Our defense got kick started and created offensive opportunities for us," said Liles.
The second half opened with a basket by the Sunbirds, but the Cougars reeled off the next 6 points to assume a commanding 48-36 advantage and cruised from there.
"The girls played hard tonight and I was really pleased about that. We've lacked some energy the last few games but found it tonight and I hope it carries over to next week," Liles added.
The win was Azusa Pacific’s fifth straight over Fresno Pacific and its second overall. Meanwhile, it was the tenth consecutive loss for the Sunbirds.
The Cougars will next host undefeated and consensus No. 1-ranked Vanguard next Tuesday night at the Felix Event Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.