(This is the twentieth 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.)
Thursday night was the first ever women’s basketball game between the Seattle Redhawks and the New Mexico State Aggies. NMSU teams have lost the three previous times they have faced teams coached by Seattle’s veteran mentor, Joan Bonvicini, all in 1991: Bonvicini coached Long Beach State for the final year in NMSU’s first season in the Big West, winning in Long Beach, 98 90, and in Las Cruces, 111 81; the following season, Bonvicini brought her Arizona Wildcats into Las Cruces in December, winning 100 97. Bonvicini first faced a Mark Trakh-coached Pepperdine squad in the 2001 WNIT; Arizona won that game, and both games in a home-and-home arrangement the following two seasons. The two coaches faced each other in the Pacific Ten conference when Trakh moved to Southern California in 2004; Trakh had a 7-2 advantage in the USC-Arizona games during those years. Bonvicini has coached more victories than all but ten women’s collegiate coaches.
Seattle and New Mexico State share another bit of history: both teams were once coached by Cathy Benedetto, who grew up in the Seattle area. Benedetto coached the Chieftains (Seattle’s nickname until 2000) for three seasons, 1977 1980, and later led the Roadrunners (NMSU women’s team nickname until 2000) for two seasons, 1981 1983. The Seattle Times ran a retrospective on Title IX several years ago that included this article by Benedetto.
Seattle came to Las Cruces as the only undefeated team in WAC play, with a 6 6 overall record, with non-conference wins over Portland, Sacred Heart, and Portland State. Redhawk losses include Pacific, Washington, and three road games: Colorado State, Pepperdine, and BYU. The only common opponent to date between the Aggie and Redhawk schedules is UC-Irvine, Seattle losing at home to the Anteaters 61 60 in overtime, while the Aggies defeated the Anteaters 50 44 in the championship of the Hotel Encanto Thanksgiving Classic. In conference play, Seattle has defeated Idaho in Moscow and both Utah State (in overtime) and San Jose State at home. The Aggies have won three of four conference games, losing the first game at home to UT-Arlington, defeating Louisiana Tech, and then sweeping the road trip to UTSA and Texas State. Both teams entered this game winning three consecutive games, and the winner would hold first place in the conference standings.
The games started with Seattle winning the opening tip, then starting the game with fourteen points to the Aggies’ four. Redhawk forward Kacie Sowell scored six, guard Taelor Ross got five, and point guard Daidra Brown four during the Seattle run. The Aggies found themselves in a deep hole after these eight minutes. Guards Stephanie Gilbreath and Danesia Williamson scored a few buckets each before Elena Holguin’s three-pointer brought the Seattle lead below double digits with six minutes to play. Sowell scored five of Seattle’s seven unanswered points at that juncture before the Aggies 10-2 run to close out the half trailing 34-27.
In the first period, Sowell scored fifteen points on six layups, one jumper, and a free throw, as the Aggies did not find the answer to keeping the ball away from her in the paint; Sowell also grabbed seven first half rebounds. Brown added eight points for the Redhawks. The Aggies were led by Williamson’s eleven points and Gilbreath’s eight. The usual third member of the Aggie leader board, forward Kelsie Rozendaal was held scoreless in the first period. For the half, Seattle’s field goal shooting accuracy, aided by the plethora of inside attempts, was 48%, significantly higher than their season-to-date 40%. The Aggies only made 29% of their tries, lower than their 33% season average.
The second half started much like the first: an 8 0 Seattle run starting with three consecutive layups by Sowell. After an amazing shot made by Seattle forward Brenda Adhiambo while falling to the floor, the Aggies set off on a run of their own, scoring the next eleven points to cut the Redhawk lead to four, with Gilbreath scoring seven. Maggie McCarthy hit a Seattle three-pointer. Rozendaal answered with a bucket. Sylvia Shepherd’s two consecutive triples pushed the Seattle lead back to eleven, and three more points by Adhiambo after the timeout made the Seattle run 13-2. A triple by Williamson, followed by buckets from Gilbreath and Williamson cut the difference to seven. Brown scored the last Seattle field goal with just over four minutes to play.
At the final media timeout, the Redhawk lead was eight, 56-48. After three consecutive Seattle fouls, Williamson got to the free throw line, but missed both of a pair. A minute later, Williamson made a three-pointer; her free throw on the next possession made the Seattle advantage four, but she again missed the second try. Ashley Ward of Seattle was fouled and made both throws; Jasmine Rutledge went to the line for the Aggies and missed a pair. Sowell was fouled, and she missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. Williamson’s baseline-to-baseline drive resulted in an Aggie layup and a four point Seattle advantage with twelve seconds remaining, but Ward again made a pair of free throws before time ran out on the comeback attempt. Seattle won the game 60-54.
The Aggies were led in the second half by Williamson’s eleven and Gilbreath’s nine points, making their game totals twenty-two and seventeen, respectively. Jasmine Rutledge added five points and ten rebounds for NMSU. The victorious Redhawks were led by Kacie Sowell’s twenty-one points and fourteen rebounds, pacing the tough inside game played by Seattle. Teammates Brown and Shephard added ten points each. The Aggies improved to 38% second half shooting, while Seattle’s accuracy dropped to 31%, making the game percentages just below each team’s season average (40% for Seattle, 33% for New Mexico State).
The WAC season continues for these two schools of the three (with Idaho) that will return to the WAC for next season. Seattle (7-6, 4-0 WAC) continues to Denver for a Sunday matchup, while the Aggies (9-6, 3-2) host Idaho on Saturday.