LA MIRADA, Calif. -- During its preparation for tonight’s road contest at Biola, the Azusa Pacific coaching staff worked diligently under the assumption that they would see a lot of zone defense.
Instead, the Eagles went man-to-man and it spelled their doom. Monica Somers carved up Biola for a career-high 29 points leading the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Cougars to an 82-76 win over their arch rival, Saturday evening at Chase Gymnasium.
“They manned us and we thought they would zone us. Their help side defense wasn’t paying attention and when they turned their heads I was able to drive right by them,” said Somers.
The Cougars maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of the contest but early in the second half Biola was able to whittle away their deficit. One of the main problems for Azusa Pacific was foul trouble.
Lindsey West picked up her third personal early in the second half but remained in the game in large part because Sarah Leathers was forced to the bench with her fourth foul just minutes into the second half.
“It was definitely tough with the foul situation,” said head coach Danelle Liles. “But we have confidence in our players that come off the bench and they played well.”
Reserve guard Crystal Jeanpierre scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting accounting for most of the scoring from the Cougars’ second unit.
When 5-foot-9 Jeanpierre threw in a 10-foot bank shot over Biola’s 6-foot-5 Linda Ogugua with the shot clocking winding down late in the first half, it was easy to get the impression that the shooting woes that plagued Azusa Pacific against Vanguard earlier in the week had been vanquished.
Behind a combined 23 points from Jeanpierre and Somers, the Cougars built a 48-38 advantage. It was a flashback to their offensive outburst against the Eagles in their first meeting of the season. The Cougars shot 46 percent in the opening 20 minutes but hit 5-of-10 from 3-point range. They also shot their free throws well making 11-of-13.
Somers was recently reinserted into the starting line-up altering her role from igniter off the bench. She spent tonight getting her team jumped started from the game’s outset.
After a back and forth opening 6 and a half minutes found the team’s separated by only 2 points. Leading 17-15, Azusa Pacific sprinted out to a big lead using a 10-2 run to extend the advantage to 27-17.
Somers scored 7 of the 10 points hitting a 3 before nailing a jumper from the wing and scoring on a lay-in after an offensive rebound from Lindsey West had kept the possession alive for the Cougars.
The Eagles then sliced away at the lead getting in down to 6 on an inside basket from Ogugua. Somers then responded with her nicest play of the half. As she drove to the basket Rachel Dulin slid over to cut off her path to the rim. Somers took the contact and then twisted to her right giving her just enough of an angle to flip the ball over Dulin and off the glass and in. She then promptly sank the free throw and the Cougars were back up 32-23.
In the second half, the Eagles’ defense went on Somer vacation as she scored 16 of her 29 points over the final 20 minutes.
“My teammates and I trust each other and they had the confidence in me to get me the ball,” said Somers whose previous career-high was 28 points against Holy Names in last year's season opener. “The win felt great. The fans were loud and into it.”
“There was a time in the second half when we were in a dry spell and she stepped up and got us back into it,” said Liles. “This is always a tough place to play well here but our girls got it done.”
Azusa Pacific (16-5, 8-3) will now return home for back-to-back games at the Felix Event Center next week. The Cougars will host Westmont next Tuesday night followed by The Master's on Friday.