Second Half Rally Pushes #8 Utah State Past #9 New Mexico
LAS VEGAS - Utah State senior point guard Jennifer Schlott, the 2013-14 Mountain West Women's Basketball Player of the Year, scored 29 points to lead the No. 8 Aggies past No. 9 New Mexico 69-66 in the first round of the 2014 Reese's Mountain West Women's Basketball Championship at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The Aggies (15-15), who won their fifth straight game, advance to Tuesday's quarterfinal round, where they will face MW regular-season champion and No. 1 seed Colorado State (23-6) at Noon PT. The Lobos' season ends at 11-19.
"We have to play the best game of the year tomorrow," Utah State head coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. "We have 22 hours to rest up and get after them. Colorado State is the best team in the Conference and they easily beat us twice. We'll approach it the same way as New Mexico and push the ball up and down (the floor)."
"I thought we really clamped down, especially on the defensive boards, we got a couple of really good ones" Schlott said. "I thought our effort was just key, though. We just really knew where their shooters were. We talked through some things. It was great."
Schlott's 29 points is a new MW first-round record, and fourth-most points in MW Championship history. Her seven assists equaled the first-round record. She was joined in double figures by sophomore guard/forward Stephanie Bairstow, who tied her career-high with 16 points and sophomore guard Makenlee Williams (11 points).
The first half saw both teams shoot over 50 percent from the floor, but New Mexico held the lead throughout, thanks to making 17 of its 29 field goal attempts (58.6 percent). The Lobos held an eight-point lead in the final minute of the first half, but a four-point play by Williams drew the Aggies within 48-44 at the break.
"That was huge for us," Bairstow said of the four-point play. "That brought us into halftime with a good feeling and we came out in the second half with that good feeling."
With its zone defense forcing New Mexico to settle for perimeter jump shots, Utah State grabbed its first lead of the game with 13:25 to play in the second half, and extended the margin out to 65-57 with 7:12 to go.
"We went to several different defenses," said Utah State coach Jerry Finkbeiner, whose team had a MW first-round record 14 steals. "I thought New Mexico had a free spirit to the game and just let things fly. In the second half, we told them to sit in a two-three zone, match-up and gather our breath and try and slow the game down a bit."
New Mexico drew within three points on a Deeva Vaughn 3-pointer in the final minute, but were unable to pull any closer.
"We were trying to get a ball screen in there. It just didn't work out," New Mexico head coach Yvonne Sanchez said. "We just didn't take a very good shot there at the end."
Vaughn, a senior forward, led New Mexico with 17 points, while sophomore forward Khadijah Shumpert and junior guard Antiesha Brown scored 13 apiece. Senior guard Sara Halaz chipped in with 12 points.
"We went away from what we wanted to do," Sanchez said. "We had four people in double figures, which should have been enough. Credit Utah State, they did a terrific job, they really did."