The Cougars continued their winning ways, securing their second straight Elite Eight appearance Monday night.

Azusa Pacific women’s basketball punched their ticket into the Elite Eight with their 53-48 victory over Westminster College.

Paige Uyehara, a sophomore guard, sank a mid-range jump shot with 2:36 left in the game to put the Cougars up seven. While Westminister had answers of their own, Uyehara and Kelly Heimburger each split a pair of free throws to seal the game. 

Uyehara led all scorers with 15 points and dished out four assists, while PacWest Newcomer of the Year, Kayla Shaw, added 10 points to the effort. That same total was matched by Laura Pranger, who missed a majority of this season due to injury.

“There’s great leadership out there on the floor,” APU head coach TJ Hardeman said. “Everyone has matured, and they trust each other to do their role. No one’s trying to do too much. They’re just doing their roles, and so we’ve kind of said to be a star in your role.”

 PacWest Defensive Player of the Year, Alex Lowden, had a career-high 15 rebounds along with nine points.

“She is the heart and soul of our team,” Hardeman said. “She just makes us go. She plays so hard that it demands that everybody else meets that level. She had 15 rebounds tonight, three assists, one turnover. She had a great, great presence, leading with hustle.”

APU jumped out on Westminster, grabbing a 19-9 lead going into the second quarter. The Cougars’ momentum carried over into the second quarter, as APU led by 14 midway through the second. Westminster fought back, staying within striking distance. Despite their efforts, APU maintained their lead of 14 by halftime. 

After rallying to take an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter, the Cougars’ advantage was cut to ten heading into the final quarter.

“I just told the girls, don’t let them catch us,” Hardeman said, “We were running out of gas. We were tired. The altitude, numbers, just the whole thing. We were struggling to hold on. We scored 17 points in the second half. We had 19 points in the first quarter. But we got through it. We rebounded. We limited their shot attempts. We did all of that, and we were able to pull it out.”

Westminister started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run, cutting the lead to three after a layup from Hunter Krebs. Hardeman called a timeout, ensuing a 7-0 Cougar run with 2:37 left in the game. The Cougars were able to make free throws near the end of the contest to hold off Westminster, advancing to the Elite Eight.

“Tonight was a great prep for us because typically the nationals are a little bit rougher,” Hardeman said. “Tonight was really really rough. And so tonight gave us kind of an idea of what to expect because we expect physical play. There are going to be good teams and so it’s gonna be fun because we’re right there.”

APU will be heading to Columbus, Ohio to compete in the quarter-finals. Joining the Cougars into the round of eight will be Belmont Abbey, Charleston (W.V.), Central Missouri, Daemen, Drury, Lander and Lubbock Christian. Today we found out they will play Lander on Tuesday, March 23 at 11:45 am PDT. Like all games previously, the contest will be streamed live for free on Cougars All-Access.