Seniors led the way for the Cougars on senior night, denying a Hawai’i Hilo comeback and finishing strong
It wasn’t pretty by any means, but when needed the most, the Azusa Pacific women’s basketball team knows how to finish games. The Cougars defeated the Hawai’i Hilo Vulcans 81-62 in their final regular home game of the season.
After controlling much of the first half and holding a 13-point lead, the Vulcans remained persistent, using their speed and passing strengths against the Cougars. APU’s lead began to dwindle in the second half after inconsistent shooting on the floor, and Hawai’i Hilo was able to cut the Cougars’ lead down to four early in the fourth quarter.
However, the Cougars refused to allow the Vulcans to come back, as APU never lost the lead once throughout the game. APU led their own rallying effort in the fourth quarter, outplaying the Vulcans when it mattered most, scoring 28 points in the final quarter of play, and winning the game by 19.
The winning effort was led by senior forward/enter Gabrielle Kaiser who led the team with 21 points on the night. Kaiser also grabbed 10 rebounds for her second double-double of the season. Kaiser spoke on the emotions that she felt, knowing it was her final home game at the Felix Event Center, but also being aware that they had a game to finish.
“There were a lot of emotions. You’re excited, you’re sad, you’re worried and you’re focused all at the same time, so it’s about playing through those emotions and knowing that we still have a game to win, but it’s a happy-sad moment for all of us.” Kaiser said. “The ability for our team to maintain focus throughout the game and know that we will win everything is what keeps us successful.”
Senior guard Abbigail Goodsell finished second on the night in scoring with 13 points, which included two key three-pointers late in the game which was part of a 11-0 point run in the middle of the fourth quarter.
“Fourth quarter games are what define us and what defines champions,” Goodsell said. “I think it’s good that I think we’re able to grind the last few minutes of that regardless of how the rest of the game is going.”
Other notable performances from the Cougars included sophomores Savanna Hanson and Zoe March. Hanson scored nine points and led the team with 13 rebounds, while March finished third on the team with 12 points, four assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes of play. The team also grabbed 23 offensive rebounds in their second straight game and shot 34.6 percent from the floor.
After the victory, five seniors were honored on the night. Those seniors were Goodsell and Kaiser, along with guards Tara Casey, Annanya Raghavan and Ariana Abo.
Both Goodsell and Kaiser expressed that the reality that they played in the final home game of the collegiate careers hasn’t quite hit her.
“I don’t think it has sunken in yet. I’m still in the rush of the game and it’s crazy just to feel that emotion of the team and everything that we’ve accomplished so far this year, and it’s crazy to think that our season isn’t even over yet,” Goodsell said.
“No [it has not sunken in], not at all, not even close. It’s honestly unreal to think about never playing another game on this court again, but it’s been an amazing experience and I could not love my teammates any more,” Kaiser said.
Abo earned her first career start in the win against Hawai’i Hilo on Thursday night, and rounded out the senior scorers with four points on the night. Both her and Raghavan are the only two four-year seniors on the team.
“Being a four-year senior has taught me a lot. Just having people come and go, I’ve been able to see the interactions with everyone else, the interactions with coach and how everyone handles each other,” Abo said. “What I think is special about this team is that we all returned from last year and just started where we all left off. We are all as close as we were last year, we were all ready to play and just that fact makes us very special.”
The team also scored 34 points from the bench, compared to Hawai’i Hilo’s five bench points. Abo noted how the team was able to do this due to the amount of depth and talent that they have.
“Our team is so deep, where we can just pull people from the left and the right. That’s because we all work so hard in practice and we have about 10 people who go through our regular rotation,” Abo said.
Goodsell and Kaiser were transfers who have been on the team for two years now. Goodsell expressed not only how proud she was of the team, but also how she believes that they are poised to make a championship run.
“I’m super proud. These past two years have been a roller-coaster of emotions, physically and emotionally, and it’s been a journey for all of us, but we made it and we’re going to get a championship here,” Goodsell said.
With the win, the Cougars improved to a phenomenal record of 25-3 (16-2 in conference), yet they are fully aware that the season is far from over. The Cougars will finish the regular season with two more games on the road, before entering the PacWest Conference Tournament on March 1.
Their next game will be next Thursday at Hawai’i Pacific, who are currently in first place of the PacWest conference with a 22-2 overall record and 16-1 conference record. Whichever team wins on Thursday will win the PacWest conference. Hawai’i Pacific beat APU earlier in the season at home, and the Cougars are now looking for revenge.
“It’s our biggest game and the farthest that we will travel, so it’s definitely time to focus up mentally and get our bodies right physically in the next couple of days before we head out there,” Goodsell said. “It will be our most competitive game this year and we are definitely looking to get revenge, for sure.”
The matchup will also be personal for Kaiser, who did not play in the first matchup against HPU this season due to injury. She believes that she is part of the better team and that they will be able to prove that next week.
“This is absolutely a revenge game. I did not play in the last game [against them], so this is definitely a redemption moment for myself. I believe that we are the best team and that if we focus, it will be a simple result.”