LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The New Mexico State women’s basketball team remains perfect in Western Athletic Conference play after its ninth-straight win in front of the home crowd, a 78-59 victory over Missouri-Kansas City on Saturday afternoon inside the Pan American Center.
The Aggies (15-6, 8-0 WAC) have now won 11-consecutive games overall, the third-longest winning streak in team history surpassed only by a 15-game winning streak in the 1987-88 season and a 12-game streak in the 1976-77 season. The squad is also 15-1 in its last 16 games.
NM State improves to 8-0 in the WAC, their best start in conference play since that 87-88 season where they finished a perfect 10-0 in the High Country Athletic Conference. UMKC (4-19, 2-6 WAC), on the other hand, loses both of its games on the Texas-Pan American-NM State road swing and loses both games to the Aggies this season.
The Aggie defense was once again the calling card for the home team. Although NM State allowed the ‘Roos to shoot over 50 percent (53.3), it was on only 45 shots in the entire game. The Aggie full-court pressure defense forced a season-high 33 turnovers, which the offense would convert into 42 points, over half of the NM State total points.
The Aggies finished shooting 49.2 percent (32-65) from the field and 36 percent (9-25) from beyond the arc.
“I thought the kids did a good job, we moved the ball, hit our outside shots and did a good job on the press,” Aggie head coach Mark Trakh said. “We really got to start working on our half-court defense though, they shot too high of a percentage. If we didn’t get those turnovers we were in a lot of trouble. They killed us in the half court but luckily we got a lot of turnovers.”
Four players finished in double figures for NM State, led by junior Sasha Weber’s game-high 20 points. The Aggie guard is now only 10 points away from the 1,000-points mark in her career, a feat she will have a chance to accomplish in her home state when NM State travels to Seattle on Thursday.
“Weber’s having a player of the year type of season, we got six game to go so we’ll see,” Trakh said. “But she’s doing a good job for us and she’ll go down as one of the all-time greats here at NM State.”
Forward Brianna Freeman was right behind Weber with 17 points while also accumulating a team-high seven rebounds. She continues to play well in conference play as she extends her streak of finishing in double figures in all WAC games this season.
Junior Abby Scott (Warm Springs Tribe) seemed to find her range from 3-point land as she finished with 12 points including going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. Moriah Mack also finished in double digits with 11 points.
Weber began a 10-1 Aggie run to kick off the game as four different NM State players scored in the first four minutes of the game. Freeman’s fifth and sixth points gave the Aggies a 16-8 lead, but UMKC would mark the next five points to pull within 16-13 at the under-12 media timeout.
Midway through the first half and with the Aggie lead still at three, freshman Zaire Williams would knock down a 3-pointer that would spark a NM State 21-5 run over the next six minutes.
The Williams’ three was followed by a Weber three and a Mack three. By the time Jasmine Cooper made a shot in the lane the Aggie lead had grown to its biggest of the half at 39-20 with under four minutes left in the opening frame.
The ‘Roos would sink the final four points of the half, including a shot at the buzzer, but NM State still held a 15-point lead heading into the locker room.
In the first meeting between the two teams in Kansas City last month, the Aggies forced 22 turnovers in the entire game. On Saturday, NM State had forced 22 turnovers at the end of half number one.
UMKC knew it needed an early second-half run to not let the game get away from them, and they got it by marking the first eight points of the half to bring the lead down to single digits at 39-32 in the first two minutes of the half.
“They came back and cut the lead to seven cause we weren’t focused,” Trakh said. “We’re not playing well at spots and it’s going to come back to bite us. So we got to really tighten some things up before we play Seattle on Thursday.”
But as has been the case all season, the Aggies never flinched and would go on to score 12 of the next 16 points to bring the lead up to double figures again. After consecutive Freeman buckets inside the lane, NM State led 51-36 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game.
The Aggies would continue to hit big shots during the middle portion of the half to keep the “Roos at bay, first it was Scott with a crucial 3-pointer and then Weber with four-straight points a little later. By the time Mack and Williams split a pair of free throws the lead had grown to what would be the biggest of the game, 22 points, at 65-43 with 5:41 left.
With under four minutes left, Freeman would hit three-consecutive buckets inside the lane for NM State to seal the deal and hand the Aggies their longest winning streak in over 25 years.
NM State will now try to tie and break the second-longest winning streak in program history with two road games next week. It will not be easy, however, as the Aggies hit the road to face Seattle U on Thursday, Feb. 12, beginning at 8 p.m. (MT) and preseason favorite Bakersfield on Valentines Day at 2 p.m.