On Wednesday night at the Felix Event Center, the Azusa Pacific Cougars played catch-up for the second straight game, but another late push brought them in front and resulted in a 73-62 win over Dominican University. (5-16, 4-9 PWC).
The Cougars did not own the lead until senior guard Amanda Sims hit a short pull-up banker in the second half with 9:48 to play. What kept them within striking distance was their full-court press.
The key moment of the game was following a layup by true freshman forward Kelly Hardeman with 6:33 to play in the game. The Cougars stole the ball on two straight Penguin possessions and capitalized with a three-pointer from Hardeman and a short-ranged jumper from junior forward Hannah Kenny respectively.
“Tonight the difference was that we never quit. We played hard and eventually our hustle and determination paid off,”Cougars’ head coach T.J. Hardeman said. “Our players don’t give up, they don’t get discouraged and that’s huge. When you keep the pressure on, the other team eventually gets tired of it, so it’s almost a test of wills. When we made our run you could see they were having a lapse in their decision making and that’s when our team smelled blood and went after it. That’s the mark of a really good team.”
The full-court press forced 13 second-half turnovers from Dominican. This press has been the main source of recent success from the Cougars as it has been the spark of several runs and the source of a lot of the team’s production.
Coach Hardeman feels there really is not one player that holds their press back; they all contribute equally.
“We don’t have an anchor on that press that slows us down,” Hardeman said. “Hannah does a great job in the back; she’s like a free safety back there, so we basically challenge other teams and say, ‘Hey, if you think you can throw it deep, go ahead and try.’ That gives everybody else the freedom to kind of move up and pressure.”
Not only did the Cougars pressure the Penguins into 21 total turnovers, but they also controlled the battle on the boards with a 47-32 advantage. Hardeman, Kenny, and sophomore forward Maddy Barrett each grabbed nine rebounds on the night.
Hardeman and Kenny were the two top scorers of the game. Kenny scored 20 points, making this her second 20-point game, while Hardeman scored 17 and also snatched a team-high four steals on the game.
With the win, the Cougars improve their conference winning streak to five games and their home winning streak to eight games. They will hit the road this weekend to play the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds, 4-16 overall and 4-9 in the PacWest, Saturday afternoon.