(This is the seventeenth 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.)
With six schools departing the WAC after this season, many of the games this year will be the “last time” one team visits another, at least within the current conference structure. Tonight’s visit of the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies is another of those.
Louisiana Tech is a storied women’s basketball program with a proud history, following on the heels of early pioneers West Chester, Immaculata, Wayland Baptist, and Delta State. Twice, Louisiana Tech lost to Old Dominion in the final four of the AIAW national championship, in 1979 and 1980, before winning that organization’s final national championship in 1981. The next year, the NCAA took over the sponsorship of women’s sports and Louisiana Tech again won the national championship. After making the final game two years out of the next five, the Techsters won their second NCAA championship in 1988. Tech has returned to the final game twice more, in 1994 and 1998. Their six NCAA championship game appearances trail only Tennessee (13) and Connecticut (7).
New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech’s memberships in the Sunbelt Conference only overlapped by one year; because of the divisional alignment, the teams only played once in 2001, Tech winning 75-46 in Las Cruces. The Techsters moved to the WAC later in 2001, followed by the Aggies in 2005. The two schools have met seventeen times in WAC competition, including three conference tournament games. Tech has won all but two of those games. The Aggies won one in the 2007 tournament, the other in the 2008 regular season; both Aggie victories came in the Pan American Center. The Techsters enter this game on a nine-game winning streak against the Aggies. Of eighty-eight prior games against the current members of the WAC, Louisiana Tech has won eighty-four. (Utah State also has two wins over the Techsters.)
In the pre-conference period, Louisiana Tech (4-6) won most of their home games (losing to South Carolina, but defeating Central Arkansas, Ole Miss, McNeese State and Oral Roberts), and lost their road/neutral games at Tulane, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Rutgers (in Madison Square Garden), and LSU. New Mexico State (6-4) won home games against Loyola Marymount, George Mason, UC-Irvine, Texas El-Paso (in the Miners’ only loss of the season), and Kansas City, losing only to New Mexico. The Aggies won at Southern Utah, but lost at UC-Santa Barbara, New Mexico, and UTEP. Saturday’s conference openers saw LA Tech win at Denver, 82-77, in two overtimes, and New Mexico State lose a close one at home to UT-Arlington, 61-58.
After LA Tech won the opening tip, both teams missed several shots. The Techster man-to-man defense followed the Aggies all over the forecourt, while the Aggies played their typical matchup zone. NM State scored the first four hoops, one a three by Abby Scott, before Tech answered with a Kelia Shelton triple. The Aggies went on a 16-5 run, paced by ten points from Stefanie Gilbreath, including two superhoops. The Techsters responded with a 10-2 run of their own, closing the gap to 27-22. Two Aggie freshman scored triples from the left wing, first Abby Scott’s second of the half, then Sasha Weber’s first. Tech closed out the period with a 7-2 mini-run making the score 35-29 at the half.
First half scoring leaders for Tech were Brittany Lewis with nine and Shelton with seven. Gilbreath led all scorers with fourteen; Aggies Abby Scott and Kelsie Rozendaal had six each. Rebounds (20-19 Tech) and turnovers (NMSU 11-10) were nearly even, but the Aggies’ higher shooting percentage (50% v 38%), and advantage in three point goals (5-3) produced the score difference.
The second period began with another little run by Louisiana Tech powered by two Lulu Perry three-pointers, which closed the Aggie lead to two at 37-35. The Aggies again seized the momentum and scored ten of the next twelve points, taking a 48-37 lead into the under-twelve minute media timeout. The teams played evenly for about five minutes before another Tech run closed the margin to four, 62 58. Each team scored five points in the following two minutes, leaving one minute to play and the difference still four. The fouling commenced: Weber making two free throws increasing the lead to six. Shelton responded with two of her own. Danesia Williamson made two for the Aggies despite the timeout between them, then fouled Shelton while she was attempting a three-pointer. Shelton made two of the three throws to close the gap back to four. Despite Jasmine Rutledge’s two misses on the final free throws, the Aggies held on for the rare victory, their third ever against Louisiana Tech.
Second half leaders were Perry for Tech and Williamson for the Aggies, each scoring eleven in the period. For the game, Gilbreath led all scorers with eighteen. Aggies’ forward Rozendaal added fourteen, Weber twelve and Williamson eleven. The Techsters were led by Shelton’s seventeen, followed by Perry’s eleven and Travasha Anderson’s ten; like Perry’s, Anderson’s scoring was all in the second half.
The Aggies (7-5, 1-1 WAC) hit the road to San Antonio (Thursday) and San Angelo (Saturday) for the second week of WAC play, facing the third and fourth games in eight days to start the season, as do several other WAC teams. The Techsters (5-7, 1-1 WAC) head home to Ruston for a Saturday game against WAC traveling partner UT-Arlington, and stay there for two more tilts the next week against Texas State and UTSA.