AZUSA, Calif. -- On Senior Night at the Felix Event Center, it would only be appropriate that Lindsey West, on her way to a fourth All-GSAC selection in as many seasons, would lead the way to another win.
West's offense - she had 20 points and 13 rebounds - was huge but it was her defense that helped pave the way tonight.
While the outcome may have been somewhat dubious in the early stages of the second half – the lead was cut to one with 14:05 left – the NAIA’s No. 17-ranked Azusa Pacific rode a stingy defense to a 68-50 win over Fresno Pacific.
While the offense moved along swimmingly it was a defense that held the Sunbirds to 29 percent shooting in the second half and used a 17-0 run to crush any hopes of a letdown.
The ability to get into the paint paid big dividends for the Cougars who got 3 consecutive lay-ups from Sarah Leathers, Alyssa Ferdaszewski and Monica Somers intertwined with 3 straight turnovers by the Sunbirds.
During the run that turned the tide, the Cougars’ defense forced the Sunbirds into 7 straight misses from the field and forced 5 turnovers.
“That really changed the game. We picked up our defense in the second half by communicating better,” said head coach Danelle Liles. “Our defensive rotations were better and we closed out on shooters which we didn’t do earlier.”
After the completion of their run the game was out of reach and Fresno Pacific had neither the time nor the firepower to push the Cougars.
Despite the large final margin of victory the game was not a blowout for most of the night. In the first half, the Cougars got off to somewhat of a sluggish start falling behind 17-11 because they committed turnovers on 3 consecutive possessions. The Sunbirds capitalized going on a 10-3 run punctuated by a 3-pointer by Brooke Stanley to transform a 1-point deficit into the 6-point advantage.
The run was squashed by a jumper nailed by West which revved up the offense. Somers drew a foul on a drive to the basket and hit both free throws. Crystal Jeanpierre then dropped in a triple and, just like that, Azusa Pacific was back out in front.
With the Sunbirds starting to reel the Cougars kept applying pressure and before they knew it were leading 26-19. Fresno Pacific did not fade away but battled back behind the play of Fast who consistently got into the lane and laid the ball off for Melissa Montoya who scored 15 first half points. The duo led the Sunbirds on an 11-3 to get them back into the game.
The low scoring half was a direct result of the sloppy play that plagued both teams. They combined for 29 first half turnovers, including 17 by Fresno Pacific.
For the game the Cougars forced 29 Sunbird miscues and broke even in the rebounding department. When they are able to control teams on the glass they have a much higher success rate as was the case tonight.
Alyssa Ferdaszewski added 14 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals in a fine all around performance.
“We got a great team effort tonight,” Liles said. “It is important for us to continue to play consistently.”
Jaclyn Rice and Crystal Jeanpierre both played in their final regular season home games. Rice scored 9 points as she buried 3 from behind the arc to give her 162 in her 4-year career. Jeanpierre scored 5 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 21 minutes.
With the victory the Cougars earned themselves some breathing room in the GSAC standings with only 1 game remaining. Westmont upset The Master’s which began the night only half a game behind Azusa Pacific for second place. The Cougars are battling for the second seed in the GSAC Tournament which would give them 2 home games.
Azusa Pacific (22-7, 14-5) will finish out the regular season next Monday night when it travels to Costa Mesa to battle the nation’s top-ranked Vanguard at 5:30 p.m.