Courtesy of NMSU
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The top-seeded New Mexico State women’s basketball team rolled over third-seeded Texas-Pan American, 70-52, on Saturday afternoon inside the Orleans Arena to win the 2015 Western Athletic Conference Tournament, its first-ever conference tournament title, and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies (22-7, 13-1 WAC) had not been to the big dance in almost 30 years, not since back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 1987 and 1988. NM State lost in the first round in both years to Washington. The Aggies will make their first postseason appearance in five years, the last time coming in 2010 when they participated in the WNIT Tournament.
“I thought our kids played well, I thought they were ready to play from the opening tip-off,” Aggie head coach Mark Trakh said. “We played great defense on a very athletic and very talented team. We felt we needed to rebound and take away their transition points and we did a real nice job of that. I’m just so proud of these kids, 99 percent of the credit goes to these young women.”
WAC Player of the Year Brianna Freeman added yet another award to her mantel after picking up the WAC Tournament Most Valuable Player. Joining Freeman on the All-Tournament team was junior Sasha Weber.
“The awards and honors are great, I’m honored, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Freeman said. “I’m not dribbling down the court and scoring, I get passes from Shanice, Sasha, Mo, Abby, so it’s a team effort, without them I couldn’t have done this.”
NM State left no doubt on as to whom the best team in the conference is. After running through the WAC regular season with a 13-1 record, The Aggies dominated their opponent on Saturday in the championship game.
The WAC champs held UTPA to a 23.9 shooting percentage, the second-lowest percentage allowed by the Aggies this season, only higher than Florida Atlantic’s 20.3 percentage against NM State.
The Aggies had already built up a 19-point lead at the half after sinking 18-of-26 first half shots for a 69.2 shooting percentage. Weber, who finished with a game-high 20 points, drained her first five 3-pointers in the first half, only missing her last attempt at the buzzer.
Freeman came one rebound short of marking double-doubles in both games during the tournament. She finished Saturday’s tilt with 17 points and nine boards. In two games the MVP averaged 18 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.
Also in double figures for NM State was point guard Shanice Davis. The Aggie junior finished with 14 points while adding four rebounds and a couple of assists.
The Broncs marked the first three points of the game, it would be the only lead NM State would allow UTPA. The Aggies came right back with eight-straight points, including 3-pointers by Davis and Abby Scott.
With the lead at seven, 20-13, with 11:32 left in the first half, NM State, as it has done all season, would use a big run to break a game wide open. This time it would be a 13-0 run that would lead the Aggies straight to the championship trophy. By the time Weber hit her third 3-pointer of the half NM State had itself a 20-point lead with 6:23 left in the half.
The Aggies would maintain the lead and go into the half ahead 46-27 over the Broncs.
Another NM State trait throughout the season? Fast starts to the second half that have helped the Aggies pick up come-from-behind wins. This time it helped them to a WAC Tournament championship as the top seed started the final half on an 11-2 run that gave them their biggest lead of the game of 28 points, 57-29, with under 12 minutes remaining.
It was never a contest after that, as NM State never trailed by less than 20 until the final minutes of the game.
After picking up their first ever conference tournament championship, the Aggies will now try for another first, their first ever win in the NCAA Tournament.
NM State finds out who they fill face in the first round during the NCAA Women’s Basketball Selection Show, which will air live on ESPN on Monday beginning at 5 p.m. (MDT). NM State athletics is hosting a watch party at the Corbett Student Center’s Aggie Lounge beginning at 4:30 p.m. Coach Trakh and all the Aggie players will be on hand, fans are invited to come out and meet the team and see who they will face in the NCAA Tournament.