Westmont upsets No. 1 Azusa Pacific

Westmont Women’s Basketball, ranked at number 20 in the NAIA Preseason Coaches Poll, started Golden State Athletic Conference play in grand style on Tuesday night at Murchison Gymnasium. The Warriors knocked off #1 Azusa Pacific (4-1, 0-1 GSAC) by a score of 68-64, improving their record to 7-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play.

Senior guard Katie Kittle tallied a career high 26 points while also dishing off five assists and pulling down four rebounds.

Presidio Sports was at the game and compiled most of the action from the final three minutes in the video posted above. Another video that includes postgame interviews will be published soon.

“Katie Kittle had quite a night and Tugce (Canitez) made some huge plays,” said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. “Many times, Tugce was willing us in our comeback. Katie was hitting shots, attacking the rim aggressively and playing really good defense.”

Canitez scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the year.

“It was a great team effort with great energy,” said Moore. “Everyone who came in gave us valuable minutes. The three that Larissa (Hensley) hit tied it for the first time. Kelsey (Sampson) and Tawny (McCain) gave us great minutes off the bench in the first half. Aubrey Lincoln hit two threes. It was a great team feel and we were very unified on the floor today.”

But it wasn’t easy for the Warriors who never led in the first half. Azusa Pacific, which led by as much as 12 points in the first half, took a 36-28 lead into the locker room.

“We were definitely not happy with the defense we played in the first half,” said Moore. “We were doing a poor job of finding people in transition, stopping the ball and picking up shooters. They were shooting aggressively and shooting well. All we talked about at halftime was our defense, the urgency that we needed to transition defensively into and establish ourselves on the defensive end of the floor. Ultimately that is what we were able to do in the second half – holding them to 28 points.”

Things got worse before they got better. Two minutes into the second half, Azusa had pushed their lead to 13 (41-28) and a minute later, still held a 12 points advantage (44-32). However that is when things started to turn in the Warriors’ direction.

Over the next ten minutes, Westmont used a 21-9 run to tie the game at 53-all, culminating with Hensley’s three. The Cougars countered with jumper by Amanda Sims (18 points, 6 rebounds) before Canitez followed suit, tying the game at 55. With 5:20 remaining in regulation, Canitez made a free throw to give Westmont its first lead of the night 56-55.

Two free throws by Amber Williams (11 points) put the lead back in Azusa Pacific’s hand before Canitez snatched it back with a layup, making it 58-57 in the Warriors’ favor. With four minutes left, Kittle landed a layup, giving Westmont a three-point advantage.

Three free throws by the Cougars’ Tianna Jones (8 points) over the next minute resulted in the fifth tie of the game, this one at 60-all. Another layup by Kittle and a free throw by Canitez restored Westmont’s three-point margin, but once again Azusa Pacific responded, scoring on a layup by Brianna Hall (6 points, 10 rebounds) and a jumper by Rebecca Roehrkasse (6 points, 5 rebounds) to take their final lead of the night at 64-63 with 1:23 to play.

Two free throws by Westmont’s Erin Beadle with 53 seconds gave Westmont a 65-64 lead. Lisa Peterson then pilfered the pill on Azusa Pacific’s next possession and made a free throw after being fouled, giving the Warriors a 66-64 lead with 22 ticks left. After Roehrkasse missed a three-point shot from the top of the key with four seconds remaining, Vanessa Farias (7 points) nailed two free throws to seal the Warriors’ victory and account for the final score.

“Azusa Pacific pressed us for 40 minutes but in general we did a good job of taking care of the ball,” said Moore. “We only had nine turnovers. I give a lot of credit to Coach Selena Ho for that. We put in a new press break just for them today and I think it worked very well.”

The Warriors will continue Golden State Athletic Conference play on Saturday when they head to Point Loma Nazarene (6-3, 0-1) for a 5:30 match-up with the Sea Lions. Point Loma lost tonight at #10 Vanguard (5-1, 1-0) by a score of 71-52.