LAS CRUCES, N.M. – For the first time in 20 years the New Mexico State women’s basketball team stands alone atop a conference as the Aggies won the outright Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship on Saturday after handling Texas-Pan American, 80-60, in front of a raucous Pan American crowd.
NM State (19-7, 12-1 WAC) wins its final 12 home games after losing the first two and has now won 19 of its last 21 games. The 19 wins surpass the 18 the Aggies had in 2009-10, the last time they earned a postseason nod.
The 12 WAC wins is the most ever since joining the conference in 2005 and is the most conference wins since that 1994-95 season when NM State went 14-4 in the Big West and last won a conference championship.
“I’m really proud of the way the team performed and especially proud of this great crowd we had tonight,” Aggie head coach Mark Trakh said. “This team has come up big all season and they deserve this championship. We have a lot of talented girls who have worked hard to get to where they are right now, but we still feel we can accomplish more.”
NM State has the regular-season championship and might just have the conference’s best player as well as sophomore Brianna Freeman came up big for Aggies yet again. Freeman finished with her eighth double-double of the season, including seven in WAC play, after posting game highs with 21 points and 13 rebounds. There was a point in the second half when Freeman, who went 9-of-12 from the field, went on an 8-0 run by herself after four shots in the paint to give the Broncs little hope.
Sasha Weber was right behind Freeman with 20 points. She also came up big in the second half, knocking all of her four 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes, including back-to-back 3’s with under three minutes left to stick the final dagger in the visitors.
Joining Freeman and Weber in double figures was Shanice Davis with 17 points and Abby Scott and Tamera William, both of whom marked 10 points.
The Aggies jumped on the Broncs early as the home team marked the first nine points of the contest. UTPA cut the lead to five at 11-6, but consecutive 3-pointers by William and Davis upped the NM State lead to double-digits at 17-6 with 15:37 remaining in the half.
The Broncs would answer by marking 14 of the next 20 points over the next four minutes to once again trim the Aggie lead to 23-20 with 11:45 left in the opening frame.
From there the teams would trade points as neither seemed to be able to put a good run together over the second portion of the first half. UTPA got to within one a 29-28 with just over six minutes left in the half, but Davis’ third 3-pointer of the half once again extended the lead to seven with 1:18 left in the half. The Broncs would mark the final points of the half on a 3-pointer of their own as NM State led 40-36 at the break.
Davis had already scored 15 points in the first half on 5-of-8 shooting including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
The Aggies would mark the first four points of the second half and never look back. Weber’s first 3-pointer of the game once again extended the lead to double digits at 52-40 with 14:22 to play.
A minute and a half later a William shot from beyond the arc extended the lead to 14. UTPA answered with a 3-pointer of its own, but then Freeman decided to take matters into her own hands, marking her eight-straight points to give NM State an insurmountable 19-point advantage at 65-46 with just under nine minutes left.
By the time Weber hit her consecutive 3-pointers the Aggies were well on their way to heading into the WAC Tournament as the No. 1 seed and on a roll that has not been seen for the program in decades.
The final icing on the championship cake? A rebound and put-back for NM State’s final points with under eight seconds left by the only senior on the team, Jasmine Rutledge, on Senior Night.
Although the Aggies have wrapped up all that is necessary heading into the WAC Tournament in a couple of weeks, they are still not done with the regular season as NM State must still head to Chicago next Saturday to conclude their schedule with a matchup against Chicago State.