RENO - New Mexico State depended on its Ford to drive it to a championship game.
The Lady Aggies' escaped with a 60-59 win over Boise State in Friday afternoon's semifinal round of the Western Athletic Conference basketball championship at Lawlor Events Center.
Jenean Ford, the Aggies' 6-foot-2 forward from Chicago, drove inside to bank a layup with 20 seconds remaining in the game to give NMSU a two-point lead.
Boise had a chance to tie the game in the final five seconds after Ford fouled Jessica Thompson.
Thompson's first shot swished the net, but her second shot rattled around the rim and popped out. A struggle ensued for the loose ball, but time ran out.
"I should have made it. I was nervous," said a teary-eyed Thompson after the game.
The seventh-seeded Aggies, 10-19, scored their second upset win of the tournament. NMSU defeated Fresno Sate, the second-seeded team, Wednesday.
The Aggies know today's championship game against heavily-favored Louisiana Tech at noon will be the year's biggest challenge.
"We need to do the same things but better," Ford said.
The Aggies become the lowest-seeded team in WAC women's tournament history to play in a title game.
NMSU and the Broncos split their regular season series, but Spence felt his team learned from their loss at Boise on Feb. 16 when the Broncos thumped the Aggies, 72-45.
"I challenged them after Boise. I flat-out asked them if they quit on us. I can't use the words they said," Spence revealed.
"Obviously, we didn't. We've been fighting and fighting. I am darn proud of these players."
Based on NMSU's tenacity in staying with the Broncos during the WAC semifinal game, Spence said the timing couldn't be better.
"It's fitting at the tournament. All of our lessons are coming to fruition," he said.
Both teams were evenly matched with neither team grabbing more than a seven-point lead.
Broncos coach Gary Presnell, whose team finished the season at 15-15, said the Aggies played well.
"The difference was offensive rebounding. They got a lot, (and) we didn't. Our hats go off to them."
NMSU outrebounded the Broncos 20-11 on offense and 42-32 overall.
The Broncos trailed most of the first half, but Boise took a 29-28 halftime lead when Jessica Thompson popped a 20-foot jump shot with 10 seconds left.
Boise's largest lead came within the first minute of the second half after center Michelle Hessing backed in for a layup.
Monqiue Bribiescas, who burned the Broncos by shooting 5-of-9 from 3-point range, buried her third trey to tie the game at 31. NMSU then pulled away for a four-point lead. The Aggies committed three turnovers, two of which led to a pair of Boise baskets.
Bribiescas felt good about her long-range accuracy.
"I had confidence today. I had a shooting mindset, and I tried to distribute the ball like a point guard shoot," said Bribiescas, who led all scorers with 23 points.
Ford, though, had four points in a 53-second stretch that gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 52-45. Every time Boise would cut into NMSU's lead, the Aggies responded.
Hessing, playing with four fouls, treaded cautiously on defense.
"It was frustrating," she said of New Mexico State's aggressiveness. "I knew I couldn't foul Ford because she makes her free throws. We also knew we could pull it off, but it just didn't happen."
Ford finished the game with 13 points including 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
Spence said NMSU's win was a great day for the Aggies' program, the first year the team has competed in the WAC.