All the Azusa Pacific Univeristy women’s basketball team wanted was a second chance, another shot to prove it was the best,
Tuesday night the Cougars showed why.
Junior guard Eboni Sadler and senior swing player Alex Moore-Porter scored 17 points each and junior Briana Hall had a steal and layup during a key stretch in the second half as APU scored some redemption from a loss in the championship game a year ago with a 65-59 victory over two-time defending titlist Union for the school’s first NAIA
basketball title in Jackson, Tenn.
The Cougars, who closed the season by winning 22 of their final 23 games, finished a program-best 33-5. Union, of Jackson, which got 21 points from Zeinab Chan and 17 from Kayla Hudson, finished 34-2.
“It’s just awesome,” APU coach T.J. Hardeman said. “Since losing here a year ago, we pointed to getting back here.
“Its huge. It’s a mindset. As a coach, as much as you want to say were not just happy to be here, we were pretty just happy to be (in the championship game last year). This year, it was totally different. We said, ‘We’ve been here, and it’s not that fun to lose
this game. Let’s go ahead and win it.’ They did. It says everythingfor the program and the girls.”
But for a while it looked like the Cougars might come up short again.
Union, seeking its third consecutive title and its fifth since 2005, took a 23-14 midway through the first half, and kept thwarting Cougar rallies in the second half, getting three 3-point bombs from Hudson, the final one pushing the Bulldogs to a 53-49 advantage with 6:25 left to play.
But APU refused to die, using a 6-0 run, going 55-53 lead following back-to-back baskets by Moore-Porter with just over three minutes to play. The Cougars would never trail again.
“We have so many players who can step up, and that’s what we told them (before the game),” Hardeman said. “It could be Alex, it could Eboni, it could Bri, it can be anyone. But all of you are going to be called on to do some stuff. So be ready.’
“We started a bit slow, but that’s never bothered us all year. We’reOK, and they did a great job.”
Union tied it at 55, and after APU missed to chances to take the lead, it liked like the Bulldogs might again provide the Cougars with a frustrating finish.
Enter Hall, who came up big, stealing the ball near mid-court and converting an easy, fast-break layup for a 57-55 lead with 1:05 remaining.
Hudson, who proved deadly from 3-point range, missed on an 8-footer in the lane, which was grabbed by Sadler before she was fouled. Sadler followed with two free throws to push it to 59-55 with just 51 seconds to go.
Hall and Sadler then combined on six consecutive free throws for a 65-59 lead to clinch it.
“I just feel blessed,” Moore-Porter said. “Blessed as an individual, blessed as an athlete to be able to share this moment with my teammates. It’s a gift from God. I’m blessed to have my family who supported me, and I give credit to them. It’s a great moment.”