The Cougars defeated HPU in a very physical battle

On Saturday, Feb. 16 the Azusa Pacific Cougars defeated the Hawaii Pacific Sharks 71-63 in a closer game than the final score suggests. APU played with a chip on its shoulder after losing to the Sharks, their only conference loss of the season, on Jan. 30.

From the tip-off, this game was fought hard by both sides. Neither team giving an inch, it was evident the Cougars were going to have to battle for every single point and there would be no easy baskets in the game. Because of this, APU needed to make adjustments and they did just that.

“Last game, the points in the paint were 38 [compared] to 20 them [tonight],” said head coach T.J. Hardeman. “Defensively we did a much better job. They still got some stuff inside, but it wasn’t nearly what they got last time.”

The first quarter went smoothly for both teams, ending with a 16-13 score in favor of the Cougars. It seemed like this quarter was more of an experimental portion of the game as both teams seemed reserved offensively and focused on the defensive side of the ball.

In the second quarter, things began to heat up as the Cougars were affected by HPU’s physical style of play. The Sharks committed eight personal fouls in the first half which allowed the Cougars to score 10 points from the free throw line. The Cougars remained disciplined throughout the entirety of the first half and committed just one personal foul and no shooting fouls.

“We expected it because I think in the first game [against HPU] we were shell shocked,” said junior Savanna Hanson. “Throughout the week we kept telling ourselves that they were going to push and shove all night, so we just prepared a lot better this time.”

At the half, the Cougars were only behind by three, 32-29, but were shooting with little success going 11 for 29 and just two for 12 from the three-point line. APU knew going into the second half their offensive play was going to have to be more efficient. The three-pointers weren’t working, and because of that, the Cougars would have to look for the high percentage shots inside the paint.

The second half was a completely different story as the Cougars came out and dominated in the third quarter outscoring HPU 20-12 and holding them off in the fourth. In the second half, the Cougars improved their shooting by going 12 for 26 and two for six from the three-point line.

With the game dwindling down, the Cougars took advantage of the Sharks’ overly physical style of play and made sure every shot from the free throw line counted. Scoring 14 points on foul shots was enough to put APU in the win column by the end of the night.

“We’re just going to have to push each other in practice by fouling because we know every other team is going to give us their most physical play,” said junior Rachel Bozlee. “We’re the team to beat right now.”

Looking forward, there is still a lot of basketball left to be played, and because of that, the Cougars have to keep complacency out of the locker room.

“We’ve talked about not taking the rest of the season lightly,” Hanson said. “We’ve just been focusing on the home stretch and not letting ourselves relax.”

The Cougars improved to 20-4 overall on the season as well as 17-1 in conference play. Ranked number one in PacWest, the Cougars will be getting the best competition from every team they play. Their next battle on the court will be against Chaminade in the Felix Event Center on Feb. 19 at 5:30 p.m.