The first extended road trip for Cougars basketball saw the women continue to build some momentum, while the men’s side took a slight step backward.
Heading into Tuesday’s mid-week away matchups against Fresno Pacific, Azusa Pacific’s men and women’s basketball teams were experiencing differing circumstances early on in the season.
Before the postponed series against Point Loma last weekend, the men’s team was riding a three-game winning streak, averaging 76.6 points per win. The women’s team was not receiving such favor. After an agonizing three-game losing streak, the Cougars finally bounced back with a 10-point win over Point Loma last Saturday. Yet, they remain a young ball club, and one win is only a start when escaping an early hole.
Regardless of where each team stood, Tuesday allowed for an opportunity for both squads to prove themselves. What resulted was an impressive 79-69 victory for the women, extending their regular season win-loss record to 4-3, while the men’s winning streak came to a sudden halt after a 94-84 defeat to the Sunbirds, dropping their record to 3-2.
Here’s how each of Tuesday’s games panned out:
Women’s basketball holds off second-half comeback after a dominant second quarter
This game was essentially even when you look at the final box score. The rebounding battle was similar — 37-36 in favor of APU. The turnover battle was similar — 11 for the Sunbirds and nine for the Cougars. The shooting percentage from behind the arc was only separated by three percent, favoring Azusa Pacific. No quarter embodied that resemblance quite like the first, as heading into the second quarter the score was tied at 20 points apiece.
The remainder of the first half was all APU. In the next ten minutes, the Cougars outscored their opponents 26-10 which was highlighted by a 12-2 run in the first four minutes of the quarter.
Another key element was Paige Uyehara, who scored a season-high 17 points against Fresno Pacific. In the second quarter, she scored five of those 17 points in less than 10 seconds of play, as she made a layup, forced a steal and capitalized on a quick transition three-point shot in the corner.
“We just had a number of players who made really nice plays,” said head coach T.J. Hardeman when asked about the team’s second-quarter execution. “We were able to find a streak where we could be opportunistic on open shots, and that’s exactly what we did in the second.”
Despite the Cougars entering the second half with all of the momentum, the Sunbirds would score a quick 16 points early in the third quarter and dropped APU’s lead to only five. Although the Sunbirds played strong defense in the fourth, APU responded with just as resilient of an effort, as they only allowed three points midway through the quarter.
A 6-0 run by the Cougars late in the period, started by a layup from Kelly Heimburger, essentially iced the game. Heimburger and Uyehara were only two of the four Cougars who ended the contest scoring in double digits. Molly Whitmore finished with a game-high of 22 points, along with 10 total rebounds, giving the sophomore her second double-double of the season. Kayla Shaw also continued her impressive season, making four three-point shots and finishing with 14 points.
“We’re still very new to each other. And with the short amount of time we have had to practice together, that means the more games we can play, the more we will understand our group’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s something we look for every week; ways that we can improve as a team,” noted Hardeman.
Their next challenge will be Biola, a team they beat twice to begin the season. If the Cougars can mimic that previous success, they are hopeful that they will continue to build the momentum they have acquired through the last two victories.
Men’s basketball incapable of recovering after an early 13-0 run from the Sunbirds
Unlike the women’s contest, the statistics of this matchup show that one side was the superior team on Tuesday night. The Sunbirds finished the game an impressive 31-60 (51.7%) from the field, compared to the Cougars who were 32-75 (42.7%). The Cougars only turned the ball over eight times, which was a season-low for the team. However, when outboarded 40-27, those defensive efforts become inconsequential when considering the final score.
“Any time we were in a position to comeback late in the second half, it came to a physicality and effort type of play. And ultimately they just outplayed us in that regard when it mattered most,” said head coach Peter Bond.
The game did not begin in favor of Fresno Pacific. The Cougars bench provided much-needed offensive production early in the first half, allowing APU to hold onto an early 18-11 lead. Junior guard Bryce Sloan, who was the first man off the bench, was the catalyst behind that scoring display, finishing two quick three-pointers during an 11-4 run. Sloan would end the game as APU’s leading scorer with 24 points, a season-high for him.
The game would eventually be tied 20-20 thanks to a quick response from the Sunbirds, and that sudden transition turned into an eventual command rather quickly. With the Cougars continuing to struggle from behind the arc, the Sunbirds took advantage and headed into halftime with a 43-32 lead.
While the second half remained reasonably back and forth, APU had a chance to make a comeback with just over two minutes left in the contest. They had gone on a 10-2 run to make it a five-point game. However, a three-point shot from Fresno Pacific following that run ended the chances of a late-game rally. When the forty minutes came to an end, the home team had won 94-84.
“We’re going to need to turn the page here quick,” mentioned Bond. “With the schedule we’re playing under we can’t really dwell on this loss long, which in a lot of ways is probably a good thing for our team. All we can do now is get ready for Friday.”
The Cougars will be returning to the Felix Event Center on Friday to play Biola once again. Splitting the season-opening series against the Eagles one game apiece, the Cougars will certainly be looking to redeem their past losses at home — a court they have yet to lose on.
You can watch both the women’s and men’s upcoming matchups on APU’s Official Athletic Site here.