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March 1, 2006
Gary Pine
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AZUSA, Calif. – Junior Monica Sommers scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half and 4-time All-GSAC center Lindsey West put in another yeoman-like effort to lead the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 76-63 victory over Hope International in the opening round of the Golden State Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Postseason Tournament.

The victory advances the Cougars into the GSAC Tourney semifinals for the second straight year where Azusa Pacific will visit Point Loma Nazarene, Friday (March 3) in San Diego at 7:30 p.m. The other semi pits The Master’s at Vanguard, also at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

West, who continues to inch closer to Azusa Pacific’s all-time scoring record, now needing less than 50 points to break the record, tallied 21 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists to lead the Cougars to the wire-to-wire victory.

“Lindsey just doesn’t give up,” said Azusa Pacific Danelle Liles. “Every team we play at least doubles, if not triple-teams her. But she keeps after it. Tonight she was more versatile in her offense. She hit a couple of mid-range jumpers that forced their defense to come out.”

The Cougars broke open a close game midway through the first half. Junior Ashley Oakes came off the bench to tally 5 consecutive points, the last 3 coming off a long-range trey. Oakes’ effort spurred a 14-5 Cougar run that allowed Azusa Pacific to assume a comfortable 41-27 lead at halftime.

“We’ve been needing that spark from Ashley off the bench,” Liles added. “She was confident in her offense tonight, and she gave us some great rebounds too.”

Azusa Pacific led by as much as 18 points in the second half following a Sarah Leathers’ 3-point basket that put the Cougars up 53-35 with just over 12 minutes left in the game. Hope was never able to cut the deficit to single digits the rest of the way.

“We just got after it tonight,” Liles said in comparison to the Cougars’ double overtime loss at Hope International nearly a month ago. “We were diving after loose balls and getting after it on defense. We really wanted to win this game, and I don’t’ think we gave that kind of effort last time.”

Along with West and Sommers, Leathers was the only other Cougar in double figures, adding 10 points in 33 minutes. Hope was paced by Carly Andrews’ game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Azusa Pacific and Point Loma Nazarene, which split the season series, are meeting for the first time in the GSAC Postseason Tournament since 2001 when the Cougars downed PLNU, 86-72, in the semis at Whittier College.

“Point Loma is a great team, and we’ll have to play well down there,” said Liles. “I think what gives us hope is that we have been a better defensive team in the past month.”

With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 23-8. Though Hope International’s run in the NAIA postseason play comes to an end, the Royals will continue their season and take their 18-13 record into the National Christian College Athletic Association Tournament in Indiana later this month.