Early foul trouble and rebounding woes dug the Cougars in, as their season came to a close Tuesday.

Azusa Pacific’s women’s basketball 2021 season has come to an end, after losing to Lander University 88-76 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament. 

Uyehara hit a jumper to cut the deficit to six with 1:29 left in the game. Lander answered with a quick layup and a defensive stop to push their lead to double digits with under a minute left in the game.

PacWest Newcomer of the Year Kayla Shaw led the Cougars in scoring with 19 points. Laura Pranger, who missed a majority of this season due to injury, was the next highest score for the Cougars with 16 points. Paige Uyehara and Kelly Heimburger each scored double digits as well. 

Nevertheless, APU was outrebounded 55-25 with Makaila Cange grabbing 18 of the Bobcats’ boards and adding 26 points, going 8-10 from the field and 10-12 from the free-throw line.

“It was a crazy year for everyone on the West Coast,” head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “The uncertainty was hard, but our girls understood they couldn’t control it, so they don’t worry about it. Their job was to play hard, and they did that. For our program to get back here, it is just a testament to the ones that were back from last year and the new players that were integrated into the system. Everyone worked together.”

APU’s defense was clicking early, as the Cougars held Lander to only 1-10 from the field in the first four minutes of the game. On offense, the team found success behind the arc, with Pranger hitting back-to-back triples and pushing their lead to seven midway through the first quarter. Lander was able to keep the game close by attacking the offensive glass and converting on second-chance opportunities.

The Cougars’ offensive efficiency continued into the second frame, but they struggled to keep Lander out of the paint as Zamiya Passmore scored 21 of Lander’s 36 points from under the basket. It was a back and forth affair for much of the second quarter until Lander sped up the game by pressing fullcourt. Lander went on a 12-2 run, and the Cougars entered halftime down seven. 

Lander’s offensive attack picked up where it left off to start the third, pushing their lead to 11 points in the first two minutes of the second half. However, APU  would answer as Shaw connected from deep to bring the Cougars to within four. 

APU was able to knot the game up at 44 following free throws from Heimburger, even taking the lead with 3:22 left in the third. The Bobcats answered by speeding the game up and going on a 10-0 run near the end of the period, thanks to Passmore who pushed her scoring total to 30 points through three quarters. The Cougars ultimately entered the final period down six. 

“You know we just looked and said ‘Hey, we need to maybe be a little bit more passive-aggressive in some different things,’’’ Haremand said. “‘But the National Tournament is hard because games are officiated differently in different parts of the country. The officials tonight didn’t know us from Adam; they just refereed a certain style of game. And so when you run into a style of game that isn’t conducive to your style of play, it’s tough. We got to be ready for everything and obviously, we weren’t quite ready for certain things tonight.”’

APU’s rebounding woes led to critical Lander buckets deep in the fourth, as Passmore finished the game with a high of 38 points. APU ends their season with their second consecutive Elite Eight trip after winning the Southern California Pod. Next season, Hardeman and company will be looking to jump that next hurdle and reach the Final Four bracket in their pursuit of an NCAA National Championship.