(Courtesy Azusa Pacific Athletics)

FRESNO – Azusa Pacific used a strong third quarter to take control of the game and claimed their second PacWest Tournament championship with a 60-49 victory over Academy of Art Saturday evening inside the Special Events Center at Fresno Pacific.

Kayla Shaw was named the tournament’s most outstanding player and led the team in scoring with 17 points in the game. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Laura Pranger, Paige Uyehara, and Alex Lowden.

The title game was a defensive affair throughout, as the Cougars held the Urban Knights to just 3-15 from the field in the first quarter, slowly building a 12-6 advantage after the opening 10 minutes.

But Academy of Art – who, like the Cougars, were playing their third game in as many days – proved their mettle in the second frame, with their bench sparking a 14-0 run that gave the Urban Knights a 20-16 lead, holding the Cougars without a point for seven minutes and holding on to a 22-20 advantage at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Cougars started knocking down their outside shots, making four three-pointers as part of a 16-4 run that put them ahead for good. The teams would trade baskets the rest of the quarter, giving Azusa Pacific a 40-33 lead going into the fourth.

The Urban Knights had whittled the lead down to four points at 49- 45 with 3:30 remaining. Uyehara drove in for a layup that missed, but Molly Whitmore grabbed the offensive rebound, which led to a Lowden three.

After Academy of Art came up empty on their next trip down, Uyehara made a driving layup that pushed the lead back to nine. Then, with the lead back down to five and 30 seconds left, Lowden stole an inbounds pass and drove 60 feet for a layup to put the game away.

Four Cougars scored in double figures in the game: Shaw had 17 points, Whitmore 14, and Uyehara and Lowden each scored 10. Pranger added seven points, five rebounds, and three blocks, earning a spot on the all-Tournament team for the third time. The Cougars starters scored 58 of their 60 points in the game, which proved enough despite allowing 30 points by the Urban Knights’ reserves.

Uyehara had seven assists and five steals in the win, while TyLee Manuel grabbed 10 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. Defensively, the Cougars held Academy of Art to just 28.6% from the field for the game. Shaw had 57 points and 18 rebounds during the tournament. The PacWest tournament win is the first for Azusa Pacific since 2016.

Azusa Pacific (24-3 on the season) has earned the PacWest’s automatic bid into the NCAA West Region tournament. The Cougars’ first-round game will take place on Friday in Hayward, against Cal State San Marcos.

– Courtesy Azusa Pacific Athletics

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