GEORGE FOX 68, AZUSA PACIFIC 65: Hays’ Heroics Carry Bruins Past Host D-II Cougars

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AZUSA, Calif. – Megan Hays scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, leading the NCAA Division III nationally-ranked George Fox University Bruins past the Division II Azusa Pacific University Cougars 68-65 in the Azusa Pacific Women's Basketball Invitational Tournament Tuesday evening here at the Felix Event Center.

Dacia Heckendorf's three-pointer gave George Fox the first lead of the game, but Azusa responded with 10 points in a row, including threes by Kelly Hardeman and Amanda Sims.  Bruin baskets by Hannah Munger and Hayley Cusick halted that run, but Sims hit another three to give the Cougars a 13-7 lead with 13:03 left in the half.

Munger then fed Hays inside for a layup and free throw, igniting a 22-4 run over the next eight minutes as the Bruins built a 12-point lead of 29-17.  Hays scored 11 of the Bruins' points in that span, and Heckendorf capped the outburst with a fast-break layup and free throw with 5:21 left.  The Cougars got back in the game with buckets by Lauren Gilster and Hannah Kenny and a trey by Morgann Ellis before Hays hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left, giving George Fox a 31-24 advantage at the half.

Layups by Munger and Megan Arnoldy boosted the Bruin lead back to 11 at 35-24 a minute into the second half, but Hardeman hit a pair of threes and a fast-break layup and Kenny hit three short jumpers and a pair of charity tosses to key an 18-4 Azusa rally that made it 42-39 Cougars with 13:36 to go in the game.  The host team eventually built its lead to four at 52-48 on a three by Sims with 9:30 remaining.

The Bruins answered with nine straight points on a Cusick steal and layup, a Hays layup to tie, a three by Heckendorf to put the visitors ahead for good, and a Hays hook to make it 57-52 at the 7:03 mark.  Hays hit two more baskets in a 9-2 stretch that extended the George Fox lead to nine at 68-59 with 2:50 left, but the game almost got away from the Bruins as they did not score again, committed two turnovers, missed two one-and-ones, and had a technical foul called on the bench in the remaining time.

Sims scored the rest of Azusa's points, hitting two free throws at 2:30, two technical shots at 1:32, and a jumper with 1:25 left.  Sims had a chance to tie it in the waning seconds, but the Bruin defense, closely guarding the three-point line, forced her into a difficult shot with five seconds left, and Cusick rebounded the miss to preserve the win for the Bruins.

George Fox, ranked 21st in the latest poll and 22nd in the USA Today / ESPN / Women's Basketball Coaches Association poll, improved to 6-2 on the year with its sixth straight win.  Azusa Pacific slid to 2-6 overall.

Hays connected on 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line on the way to her big night and led the Bruins to a 30-25 edge on the boards.  Munger and Heckendorf added 12 points each, and Cusick tallied 10.  Munger added four blocks, raising her career and Bruin-record total to 344, while Cusick handed out six assists and made three steals.  George Fox shot .571 (28-49) from the field, including .375 (3-8) on three-pointers, and .818 (9-11) from the line.  The Bruins committed only five fouls the entire game.

Sims tossed in 20 points to pace the Cougars, hitting 4-of-5 from behind the arc, while Kenny scored 14 and Hardeman 11.  Hardeman also had team highs of seven rebounds and four steals.  Sullivan Ziegler passed out nine assists.  Azusa shot .446 (25-56) from the floor with a sparkling .409 (9-22) mark from long range, and .750 (6-8) from the stripe.

NEXT: On the second day of the Azusa Pacific Invitational on Wednesday, George Fox takes on another D-II team, Point Loma Nazarene University, at 2:00 p.m., while Azusa plays Cal Poly-Pomona at 4:00 p.m.