The Cougars’ bounced back Saturday afternoon following a crushing loss to Concordia Irvine the day before, rounding off a 2-1 week.
APU entered last week on a four-game winning streak with wins over Point Loma, Biola and Fresno Pacific. The Cougars’ success over that span was heavily influenced by the play of Kayla Shaw. Shaw’s stellar play continued in APU’s matchup against Fresno Pacific Tuesday afternoon, as she led the Cougars with 24 points.
Kelly Heimburger added a career-high 20 points on 69% shooting from the field. Paige Uyehara contributed 16 points and four assists, converting on 90% of her free throws, helping the Cougars secure a 75-70 victory over the Sunbirds.
The Cougars’ win capped off a two-game season sweep of Fresno Pacific, one that extended their winning streak to four. The victory also highlighted a common theme throughout APU’s season of having all hands on deck in the scoring department.
“In college athletics, rosters are filled with players who were the main option in high school,” APU head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “So we have ladies who are hungry and ready to fulfill any role any given night.”
The Cougars ran into a wall in their Friday afternoon game against Concordia Irvine. Sophomore forward Molly Whitmore finished with a double-double, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Uyehara ended the game with 12 points, while Heimburger added 10 points to the fray as well.
Yet APU got off to a slow start, falling behind 15-9 and shooting 24% from the field after one. The Cougars made up for their forgettable start by outscoring Concordia 15-11 throughout the remainder of the half, entering the break trailing 26-24.
The Eagles were able to hang onto their lead for much of the third quarter until APU tied the game at 35 with less than five minutes remaining in the quarter. The Cougars’ rally continued for the remainder of the quarter, as APU entered the fourth quarter up five. Concordia was able to tie the game twice through the first four minutes of the fourth and successfully retook the lead after a three-pointer by Katie Timmerman with 4:43 remaining. Concordia called the game after a 6-0 run, pushing their lead to 59-52 with one minute remaining — ending the Cougars’ five-game winning streak.
APU bounced back from their Friday afternoon defeat, beating the Eagles 56-46 on Saturday to avoid the season sweep.
“As a young team, we are able to come back from tough losses and capitalize from seeing a team the day before,” Hardeman said.
Hardeman’s team definitely adjusted after their first meeting with Concordia, improving their team output in nearly every category. The Cougars outscored Concordia in points off of turnovers (14-10), bench points (10-2), and points in the paint (36-18).
The most important change in APU’s play came on the defensive end, where the Cougars held Concordia to 31% shooting from the field and 17% from three.
“Our leading scorers are out so we know that we have to defend at an elite level,” coach Hardeman said. “We have to know where our shooters are and make sure to help each other out. We adjusted on Michaela VanderKlugt very well and made sure she didn’t get anything easy.”
The Cougars got off to a hot start in the first quarter, going on a 12-0 run with six minutes left in the quarter, taking a 16-5 lead into the second. APU continued their hot streak into the second period, shooting 57% from the field.
However, the Eagles didn’t go away easily. After taking APU’s initial punch, Concordia found a way to outscore the Cougars 21-17 in the second quarter. Despite this, APU entered the half up 33-26.
The Cougars came out of the half cold, shooting 3-10 from the field and committing seven turnovers. The Eagles’ VanderKlugt kept Irvine in the game, scoring ten of her 15 points in the third. However, Whitemore continued her scoring tear, scoring eight of her 22 points in the second half.
“She came out grinding from the very beginning,” Hardeman said of Whitmore’s performance. “Following a monster game, she wasn’t satisfied with just one game, especially a loss. She became our main focus offensively and the rest of the team knew it. They knew to feed Molly the ball and they did well playing through Molly.”
The Cougars defense held off the Eagles’ final comeback run, limiting Concordia to just eight fourth-quarter points. Scoring ten points in the final five minutes of the game, the Cougars secured a 10-point victory over Concordia.
The Cougars’ next game will take place in San Diego as they take on the Point Loma Sea Lions next Friday and Saturday. Earlier this season, the two teams split a Friday/Saturday doubleheader.
“Defense will have to be a point of emphasis for us,” Hardeman said. “We have to focus on our defensive principles and have patience on offense. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape for this final series.”
Updated: Feb. 21 at 2:40 p.m.