Affirming its lofty ranking, the Azusa Pacific women's basketball team spoiled Senior Night at The Master's College, beating the Mustangs 73-59 Tuesday evening in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Bross Gym.
The third-ranked Cougars, sitting atop the GSAC, handed the Mustangs their third consecutive loss and dropped them to 9-10 in the GSAC and 16-12 overall. With one regular-season game left, the Mustangs remain tied with Concordia for sixth place in the conference.
Early on, though, it looked like the Mustangs were the nationally-ranked squad, playing their best opening five minutes of the season and senior Erica Inge fueled the start. Playing her final game in Bross Gym and recognized as one of two seniors before the game, the diminutive one scored the game's first five points.
The Cougars responded, closing to 8-6, but Brook Bekendam, the other Mustang senior buried a three-ball and when Inge laid one in, the Mustangs had a seven-point edge (13-6) with just under 15 minutes remaining in the first half.
The advantage didn't last long as the big and athletic Cougars tied the game at 15 and then took the lead for good at 17-16 on an Amber Williams jumper with 9:27 left. They increased the lead to four points on a Briana Hall three-pointer and then used a 6-0 run to go up 28-20 at the 5:08 mark.
The Mustangs fought back, closing to four points on consecutive buckets from Inge, the first a jumper and the other a layup, making it a 28-24 game with 3:21 showing on the clock.
However, those were the final points of the half for the Mustangs while the Cougars finished with a flourish, tallying the last five points of the period to take a 33-24 halftime lead.
The nine-point deficit was fed by a 31% shooting performance and seven turnovers that led to seven Cougar points. Inge, who was doing everything possible to keep her team in the game, led the Mustangs with eight points at the break.
A Cougar basket to open the second half extended the lead to 11 points, putting the Mustangs on the ropes. However, a three-point play by Theresa Brown and another bucket by the junior post kept the Mustangs within eight points (37-29) at the 18-minute mark.
They were still down by eight (39-31) less than a minute later when the Cougars caught fire. Keyed by an Amber Williams jumper, the Cougars tore off six straight points and then tallied seven of the next 10 points to take the game's largest lead to that point, 52-34.
They weren't done, either. Minutes later, another Williams jumper extended the advantage to 21 points (58-37) and the lead hovered around the 20-point margin the rest of the way.
The Cougars enjoyed their largest lead at 67-45 with 6:17 remaining before the Mustangs put together a 5-0 spurt in a 25-second window. Two Ella Joines' free throws ignited the run and Zoe Scott closed it out with a trifecta.
Although it was too little, too late, the Mustangs played hard to the end, outscoring the Cougars 9-2 over the final 2:10. Inge sparked the run with a pair of charity tosses, Lauren Labat and Brown added layups, and Joines capped the evening with her fourth triple of the game.
Finding the range much more consistently in the second half, the Mustangs improved to 48% accuracy (38% for the game). But, the Cougars were even better, blistering the nets at a 65% clip.
Thrilling the home crowd one more time, Inge tallied 14 points, sharing team-high scoring honors with Joines. Brown made a nice recovery in the second half and finished with 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
The Mustangs close out the regular season on Saturday at Vanguard, still trying to earn the highest possible berth for the GSAC Tournament which begins next week.