(This is the thirty-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.)
New Mexico State women’s basketball closed out the regular season in Arlington by defeating the Mavericks of UT-Arlington, 72-66. These two teams also played to begin the conference season; the game in Arlington on December 29 also went to the visiting team, the Mavericks defeated the Aggies, 62-59; my recap of that game was titled, “Cold Shooting Beats Ice Cold Shooting.” In mid-February, the Arlington athletic director informed sixth-year head coach Samantha Morrow that her contract would not be renewed at the end of the season; she decided to step down immediately to let the search process begin. The Mavericks have since been coached by interim head coach Karen Blair, previously an assistant on Morrow’s staff.
The Aggies (14 15 overall, 7 11 WAC) are the eighth-seeded team in the WAC Tournament; the Mavericks (7 22, 4 14) ended tied with Texas State for ninth. (In today’s first game of the tournament, Denver beat Texas State 73-63; the Pioneers advance to meet second-seed Utah State)
UTA won the opening tip, but New Mexico State scored first. As usual for the Aggies this year, the first shot was a three-pointer by the freshman in the starting lineup. Today that was Abby Scott, and she made that one and another in the first few possession of the game; after the second of those, the Aggie lead was 8-2, the largest margin by either team before halftime. Zone defenses were employed, and the Aggies tried to break the zone by shooting over it, taking 21 three-point attempts in the period, making four of them. The Aggies pounded the boards in the half, leading in rebounds, 30 17, and in offensive rebounds by an astounding 16-4. Center Kelsie Rozendaal, a fifth-year senior, had seven of those offensive rebounds and seemed to be wherever the ball was on the offensive end of the floor. The first half was very closely played, tied at 18 at the under-eight minute media timeout, and at 24 at the under-four. Rozendaal’s tenth point of the half closed it out with NMSU leading 30-28.
Besides Rozendaal’s ten points and eight rebounds, guard Stefanie Gilbreath had eight points and six rebounds for the Aggies. Six different Aggies had at least one offensive board in the half. Top scorers for Arlington were point guard Laila Suleiman with nine and forward Kiara Parker with eight; Parker also had five rebounds. The half was cleanly played by both teams; each had only three turnovers and only five personal fouls.
The teams continued to seek separation in the second half. Jordan Holub’s two three-pointers to start the half for Arlington sent them to a two-point advantage, but the score was again tied at 38 after four minutes. The Mavericks surged again briefly; Suleiman’s three-pointer gave UTA a three-point lead; Aggie coach Mark Trakh responded with a timeout. Whatever he said worked: guard Sasha Weber’s first triple tied the score and started a 24-4 run that involved each of the three team leaders whose performance is critical to NMSU success this year: Rozendaal had seven of the 24; point guard Danesia Williamson, who always seems to shine in the second half, scored eight, including two triples; Stefanie Gilbreath added three points. With four minutes to play, the Aggies had built an insurmountable eighteen point lead. Not that the Mavericks did not try; they scored the next nine to cut the lead to nine. As the time remaining dwindled, the Mavericks were forced to foul in order to stop the clock. The Aggies made nine of the twelve free throws in the final two minutes and held the Mavs to only three free throws (on six attempts). The final score was New Mexico State 76, UT-Arlington 63.
In interviews after the game, coach Trakh noted how well his team had played over the past three weeks, winning six of seven games played. He was glad to have the team healthy finally, especially Rozendaal who took an elbow to the chest early in the conference schedule and was only in the past couple of weeks feeling fully recovered. Blair noted that she was “very proud of this team and their performance today,” commenting that they “fought the entire time.” Almost every team ends its season with a loss and the Mavericks will return to Texas, begin the search for a permanent head coach, and head off to the Sun Belt Conference for next season.
New Mexico State’s season will continue tomorrow, as being the winner of the eight-nine game entitles you to the opportunity to upset the top seed of the tournament, in this case coach Joan Bonvicini’s Seattle Redhawks.