(This is the sixteenth 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 last Saturday of December brought the first ever WAC women’s basketball game for the University of Texas at Arlington. The Mavericks came to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies for the fifth time in the programs’ histories. Arlington had won all four of the previous meetings, once in Arlington, during December 2004, and three times in the Pan American Center: in the 1981 and 1983 L’eggs Classics, and a 2005 regular season meeting. This will be the only Las Cruces WAC meeting between the women’s basketball teams as UTA will join the Sunbelt conference next season.
The Aggies’ pre-conference record was 6-4, matching the prior year team’s win total for the season in the first ten games. Most notable in the wins was a home victory over rival UTEP, the Miners’ only loss in their first fourteen games; before the break the Aggies’ previous game was a December 21 win over Kansas City. The Mavericks came to town with a 2-8 record, with road victories at Houston Baptist and North Texas; their last game was a December 22 loss to Oklahoma State. Both the coaches and media picked UTA last in the preseason polls; the Aggies were projected ninth by the media and eighth by the coaches.
The game began before a small, holiday crowd of about 1,150. There was a small band, even though school would continue out of session until January 17. Though the Mavericks won the tip, freshman Abby Scott’s three-pointer for the Aggies started the scoring. Two layups by forward Desherra Nwanguma put the Mavericks into the lead, before an NMSU 12-2 run put them back ahead; freshman Sasha Weber got two triples in that run. The Aggie lead grew to eight at 19-11, and then was cut to four twice at 22-18 and 25-21. As the clock ran out on the first half, Aggie guard Stefanie Gilbreath made a desperate heave from behind half court that was short of the goal, but she was fouled by UTA’s Laila Suleiman. Gilbreath coolly dropped in the three free throws to make the Aggies’ halftime lead seven points.
Neither team shot very well in the half; UTA’s 30% from the floor was better than NMSU’s 26.5%. The Mavericks made more field goals (nine) than the Aggies in the half, but five of the Aggie scores were of the three-point variety. The Aggies were also five of seven from the free throw line, while UTA made two of their three attempts. Gilbreath had ten points to lead the game at the intermission; the only other Aggies to score in the half were Scott (eight), Weber (six), and Danesia Williamson (four). Six Mavericks scored, led by Kaira Parker’s five. Rosalyn Thorpe and Nwanguma each tallied four, Suleiman and Eboni Watkins each scored three, and Aron Garcia added a bucket for UTA.
Halftime brought a full-court pee wee basketball game; those always feature a lot of north to south sprints, with an occasional heave toward the basket. At least one goal was scored, and a good time was had by all.
Al McGuire used to say that in a basketball game, there were three periods of greater importance than the others: the first five minutes to set the tone, the first five minutes after the half for similar reasons, and the final five minutes to determine the outcome. Now we tend to think of games in four minute segments, divided by the media timeouts in each half, but those three segments seem to have a lot to do with the outcome of games. While the Aggies won the first tonight (8-4), the Mavericks outscored the Aggies 12-3 at the start of the second half, forcing an NMSU timeout after a minute and a half that did not stem the momentum. Parker and Garcia each made a couple of bucket during this run, which put the Mavericks back into the lead, 33-31. A couple of Gilbreath free throws evened the score again, but she fouled Nwanguma on the ensuing play, and her “and one” put the Mavericks back ahead. The Aggies continued their ice cold shooting, but UTA drove to the basket to decrease the length of their shots, and thereby increase their percentage; they shot 43% in the second period. A small lead was maintained by the Mavericks up to the final media timeout of the half.
The final segment of the game came after Suleiman fouled Williamson as she made a basket to pull the Aggies within two, at 55-53. She missed the free throw, and Gilbreath was fouled by Garcia rebounding Nwanguma’s missed jump shot. She made the first throw, but missed the bonus, leaving UTA up by one. Williamson fouled (her fourth) Suleiman on a shot attempt; she made both throws. After an Arlington timeout, the Aggies missed on three attempts, but Suleiman drove for a layup between missed jumpers by Watkins, leaving the score 59-54. Williamson banked in a three-pointer with fifteen seconds to play, cutting the lead to two. The Aggie press forced a UTA timeout when they could not get the ball in play. On the second try, Suleiman got the ball, was immediately fouled by Weber (her fourth), and made both free throws to extend the lead back to four. Williamson’s long try was rebounded, by Gilbreath who scored with five seconds to play. After Aggie coach Mark Trakh used his final timeout, Elena Holguin fouled Makaika Green, who made the first throw and missed the second with 2.4 seconds remaining. The Aggies could not get off a final shot, and the Mavericks got their third road victory of the season, winning the final segment 7-6, and the game 62-59.
Four Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Suleiman’s thirteen tallies. Nwanguma got ten rebounds to go with her twelve points; Kiara Parker and Makaika Green added ten each. Garcia led the game in rebounds with twelve, and her seven points added to Green’s gave UTA seventeen from players who did not start the game.
Scott’s eighteen points led the Aggies, while Gilbreath added fifteen points and ten rebounds to the effort. Williamson also scored fifteen. Rozendaal’s eleven rebounds were top for NMSU, but she only scored four points. Jasmine Rutledge’s single made free throw was the bench scoring for the Aggies, whose shooting percentage was 26.4% for the game.
UT-Arlington’s travel partner this season in the WAC is Louisiana Tech, while New Mexico State will swap opponents most weekends with Denver. To give the teams a slightly longer holiday, the opening weekend was scheduled for Saturday and Monday games; this will give most of the teams in the league four games in the first eight days of the season. Monday, the Mavericks will head to Denver to play the Denver Pioneers, another of the five new teams in the WAC this season. Also on Monday, traditional women’s basketball power Louisiana Tech comes to the Pan American Center to face the Aggies.