(This is the fourth installment of Bill Harty’s game recaps as part of The Mid Majority ninth season taking readers to mid-major college basketball games around the country. Visit midmajority.com to find out more about this group-sourced effort to spread the word about the many fine basketball programs around the country that are having success on and off the court while generally not having access to the resources brought to athletic programs by big-time college football. Bill will be recapping most Aggie home games, and the occasional road foray, for both The Mid Majority and bleedCrimson.net.)
The New Mexico State women’s basketball team opened their season hosting the Loyola Marymount Lions on Monday, November 12. This was the Lions’ second game of the young season, having lost two nights earlier at UTEP, 79-51. NMSU and LMU had only one prior meeting in women’s basketball, a 1997 68 67 win for the Aggies in their Pan American Center. Neither team was expected to finish highly in their conference pre-season polls. LMU was projected by league coaches to finish seventh of the nine members of the West Coast Conference. WAC coaches picked NMSU eighth among the ten Western Athletic Conference members. Each school placed one senior guard on their respective preseason all-conference team: Lion Alex Cowling and Aggie Stefanie Gilbreath, the latter a transfer from Southern California.
A count of the sparse crowd I estimated as 500 at the opening tip was not included in the box score. Early on the Aggies moved the ball well against the LMU man defense. Aggie sophomore guard Danesia Williamson scored nine early points by slashing to the basket and making layups.
Williamson is a transfer from the University of San Diego, which is also a member of the West Coast Conference. After a jumper by Aggie freshman Shay Young made the Aggie lead six, Williamson’s free throw made the score 21-14, with ten minutes to play. Over the following four minutes, an LMU trapping defense, sometimes extending full court, created an 8-0 run by the Lions, giving them a 22-21 lead. The teams battled to a tie at thirty points before a second LMU run ended the half with the score LMU 37, NMSU 30. After shifting to the pressing, trapping defense, the Lions scored twenty three of the period’s final thirty two points.
LMU was led by center Alexis Love’s twelve first half points; Cowling added six and guard Hazel Ramirez five. To Williamson’s nine points, forward Kelsie Rozendaal added six to lead the Aggies. The Aggies played eleven of their team in the first half, including freshmen Sasha Weber, Abby Scott, Elena Holguin and Shay Young; together, they scored ten of the Aggies’ points, and did not hesitate to take good shots when available.
The second half featured more of the Loyola Marymount press, and it continued to be effective in the first part of the half. The Aggies scored the first five points to cut the lead to two before Ramirez and Cowling led LMU to a nine point lead with fifteen minutes to play. After a couple of timeouts, NMSU began to get the ball up the court and go inside for their scoring. Kelsie Rozendaal scored seven points only interrupted by a Lion free throw. Gilbreath added a quick five around a Jazmine Rutledge layup to put the Aggies up briefly by four. Ramirez and Love each scored to tie the game at 59 with seven minutes to play. A double technical on Rutledge and Lion guard Taylor Anderson showed the game’s intensity, and the lead continued to see-saw back and forth, with ties at 61 and 65, the latter with three minutes to play. Two Ramirez free throws and a Mackenzie Kerins bucket put the Lions up four with two minutes to play. Gilbreath made two free throws with forty-four seconds to play, cutting the lead to two. On the following in-bounds play, the Lions tried to break the Aggie press by passing over it to the front court; no one could catch up to it and the Aggies were awarded the ball back on the baseline by their offensive basket. Williamson drilled a jumper for her seventeenth point to tie the game at 69, and a missed jumper by Cowling, after a failed attempt to use three screens as a picket fence, sent the game into overtime.
Although the Aggies won the tip, the Lions scored the extra period’s first four points, leading to an Aggie timeout. The Aggies seemed to calm down, and driving layups by Rutledge and Williamson tied the game before a Rozendaal free throw put the Aggies in the lead with just under two minutes to play. She missed the second throw, and neither team could find the basket for a while.
Williamson was fouled with twenty-two seconds to play, and made the second throw making the Aggie lead two. After a Lion turnover, Ramirez fouled Rozendaal, who made both throws putting the Aggies up by four with ten seconds left. Ramirez took the inbounds pass and quickly made a three-pointer, making the score 77-76 with five seconds to play. Rutledge was fouled immediately on the inbounds pass, but missed both free throws, starting the game clock with the rebound. A desperation attempt by the Lions failed, giving the Aggies the overtime victory.
Ramirez led the Lions with twenty points. Love added sixteen points and seven rebounds. Cowling’s double-double consisted of fifteen points and ten boards, while Kerins scored eight and nabbed nine caroms. For the Aggies, Rozendaal led all scorers with twenty-two and all rebounders with eleven. Williamson scored nineteen, while Rutledge tallied twelve points and eight rebounds. Gilbreath scored eleven of her twelve points in the second half.
The Lions returned to Los Angeles for a three game home stand, while the Aggies followed them west for a game two days later at UC-Santa Barbara, followed by a visit to the Pit in Albuquerque to face the Lobos for the first time.