Written By: Bill Harty
This evening marked the end of a long transitional season for NMSU Women’s Basketball. Six wins in thirty games is a season with many challenges. But this team, blending recruits from two very different coaching staffs and philosophies, saved their best effort of the season for the conference tournament. Playing against the top seed, a Fresno State team that lost only one conference game all year and that an emotional rivalry upset at San Jose State, the Aggies were just short of completing the upset.
From the opening tip everyone knew this game would be a little different, as Fresno sent 5’5” guard Taylor Thompson to the center jump circle. The Aggies won the tip easily, but doing anything with possessions was difficult due to Fresno’s intense defense, which switched between man-to-man and matchup zone, aided most of the game by a 1-2-2 trapping full court press. In fact, the Aggies did not attempt a shot for the first three and a half minutes of the game. Finally after six Aggie turnovers, Camila Rosen hit a three pointer that left the Aggies behind 7-3 and started a point run in which she scored seven. Again and again in the first half, the Aggies lost possession of the ball due in large measure to the intensity of the Fresno defense; overall the Aggies committed 20 first half turnovers.
However, the lead did not grow to double digits. The Aggie defense mostly kept Fresno shooting from the outside, and they were, well, not very good out there, making only three of twenty-two three point attempts in the half. Going inside when they could was more successful, and forward Alex Sheedy led the first half Fresno scoring with eight points. With about six minutes to play in the half, Kelsie Rozendaal went down with what appeared to be a knee injury and she was helped off the court. After a few minutes, she returned to replace Tabytha Wampler when she was called for her third foul with the Aggies behind 20-13. After a Sheedy basket, Rozendaal scored the next seven points in the game to bring the Aggies back within two. Rosie Moult scored one more basket for Fresno before halftime to make the score 24-20.
A few key first half statistics: NMSU had twenty turnovers to Fresno State’s nine, but led in rebounding 21-15. The Aggies made all seven first half free throws, while Fresno was one of three. Also, Fresno made seven of their twelve two point shot attempts which brought their overall field goal percentage up to 29%; the Aggies made 35% of their first half tries.
The second half began with a Wampler layup to again trim the lead to two, before a 7-0 Fresno run, interrupted only by a timeout by Aggie coach Mark Trakh. With 17:30 left in the game, Hannah Womack made the first score of the game by an Aggie guard. The Aggie zone slowed the Fresno attack, but the lead grew gradually to 52-39 with 7:20 to play, despite a brief surge led by Aggie forward Jasmine Rutledge when she scored eight of her ten second half points. After the media timeout, guard Dre Chenier scored eight points during a 9-0 Aggie run, followed by a quick Fresno burst of six points building their lead to ten with about four minutes to play. The Aggies countered with six of their own, four by Wampler, making the Fresno lead 58-54. The Aggies could get no closer, and Rutledge and Rosen fouled out in the effort to keep the clock from running out on the season before Fresno prevailed 66-58.
The Bulldogs were led in scoring by Ki-Ki Moore’s fifteen points, followed by Blakely Goldberg’s fourteen. Veronica Wilson and Alex Sheedy scored ten each, and Rosie Moult scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds. The Aggies’ leading scorer was again Wampler with fourteen, followed by Rutledge’s twelve, Rozendaal’s eleven, Rosen’s nine, and Chenier’s eight; none of the latter four scored more than a few points outside of the scoring surges during which they briefly took over the game, which is probably a tribute to the defensive adjustments made by Fresno coach Adrian Wiggins.
Wiggins was complimentary to the Aggie defense and game plan in his remarks after the game, saying that the Bulldogs took the shots the Aggies gave them, and just weren’t very successful when those were mostly from long distance, ending the game making only seven of thirty-seven three point attempts. Coach Trakh was very proud of the Aggie effort, staying very close to the Bulldogs for much of the game, after losing to them by thirty nine points only five days ago in the regular season finale, crediting coach Tamara Inoye’s game plan with much of the success in forcing Fresno to shoot from outside. As he noted, the seniors (Wampler, Rozendaal, Erica Sanchez, and the injured Kaitlyn Soto) have built a strong foundation of heart and effort on which the success of future teams will be built. They gave it their best shot, but tonight, it was not quite enough.