AZUSA, Calif. -- Westmont head coach Kristen McKnight stood in front of the Warrior bench with her hands folded behind her head and a look of twisted anguish on her face.
After compiling a double-digit lead that grew as big as 17, McKnight could only stand and watch as Azusa Pacific put together an incredible rally behind the play of Lindsey West and Sarah Leathers.
The duo was superb as West had 30 points and 13 rebounds and Leathers added 25 points and 4 assists leading the No. 7-ranked Cougars to a stunning 100-97 come from behind win over the Warriors.
“We were trying to get it to West and she did a good job of getting position in the post which can be a frustrating thing sometimes,” said head coach Danelle Liles.
The game opened with a 3-point make by Alyssa Ferdaszewski and if ever there was an indicator of how things would go for the 2 defenses in the first half – that was it. There was no let up for either team particularly for the Cougars (17-5, 9-3) who scored 100 points for the first time in program history against a GSAC opponent.
They needed every one of those points to fend off a stubborn Warrior squad who gave Azusa Pacific everything they could handle in the contest. “It all starts with our defense because we know that the offense will come at some point,” said Leathers. “In the first half our communication was breaking down and it is easy to shoot when nobody has a hand in your face.”
Indeed, the Warriors (9-12, 4-8) were on fire in the first half, shooting over 73 percent during the opening 10 minutes. They settled for 64 percent at the expiration of the half as they built a 56-42 lead. The Cougars didn’t exactly build an annex if bricks that connected the Event Center with Admin West. They made 52 percent of their shots but could not get stops.
Westmont’s main weapon was Meghan O’Donogue who made 4 of her first 6 attempts from 3-point range and finished with 14 in the opening period. Her presence on the perimeter forced the Cougars to keep a hand in her face which opened up offensive rebounding chances for Westmont.
Despite the fact that the Cougars did not lock anyone down on defense they stayed within striking distance because of their own productivity. West was a big factor inside as she the Warriors chose to front her in the post allowing lob passes from the wing over the top. The defensive rotations were late multiple times giving West several easy lay-ups.
“A lot of times their rotations were late early and then they couldn’t double down when our shooters got hot,” said West.
Both coaches appeared unhappy at the physical defense that was being played but the game was called liberally. The players didn’t seem to mind to much as they scored constantly. Azusa Pacific went to a zone defense late in the half to keep the Warrior guards out of the paint but it didn’t seem to matter much.
The Cougars knew that they could not allow Mooty and Uhlman to control the glass but in the first half weren’t able to do it successfully. The Warriors grabbed 5 offensive rebounds and scored a basket after each time.
Westmont took initial control of the game when O’Donogue began to heat up. Trailing 10-6, she triggered a 10-2 run with a triple. After a steal by Mooty, the Warriors’ Megan Fate hit a jumper which was followed by another triple by O’Donogue. Suddenly, Westmont had surged by the Cougars and now led 16-12.
West ended the run with a free throw and Leathers followed with a trey to tie the game at 16. The visitors answered back immediately with a 12-4 run capped off by yet another 3 by O’Donogue to jump back out to a 28-20 advantage.
The Cougars kept the game within reach but a Megan Lovinger made 3 free throws followed by a Dani Russell 3-pointer and the deficit quickly grew to 44-33 late in the period.
Coming out of the locker room the Cougars appeared to show more life but were still down 17 when Megan Lovinger hit a 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead, 66-49. Azusa Pacific slowly chipped away at Westmont throughout the second half climbing to within 78-64 before putting together a momentum changing run.
Leathers hit 4 consecutive free throws to begin a 19-5 run that ended when she hit a 3-pointer to knot the game at 83-83. The drastic shift was boosted in part because the Cougars upped their defensive intensity in the second half.
“Our biggest thing tonight was heart and we came out in the second half working harder than earlier,” said Liles.
Moments later, Ferdaszewski hit the biggest shot of the night nailing a trey from the right wing to give Azusa Pacific a 96-92 lead it would not relinquish.
“We have to learn how to come out more focused. In the first half we didn’t have good chemistry but we’ve tended to be a second half team this season,” added West.
Monica Somers added 17 points for Azusa Pacific on the heels of her 29-point game on Saturday night.
The Cougars will look to continue their winning ways on Friday night when they host The Master’s, ranked No. 12 in the NAIA. The game will tip off at 5:30 p.m. at the Felix Event Center.