LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Nevada's dream of making its first-ever WAC Tournament championship game appearance and NCAA Tournament was dashed by a little New Mexico State magic.
The Wolf Pack, 17-14, fell behind by 10 points in the first seven minutes and then gave up a 20-4 run to start the second half, as the seventh-seeded Aggies rolled into their second consecutive title game with a 73-62 win Friday afternoon at the Pan American Center.
New Mexico State dominated the main statistical categories - field goal shooting, 3-point shooting and rebounding. The Aggies shot 50 percent from the floor (22-for-44), 50 percent from 3-point range (8-for-16) and outrebounded Nevada (46-35).
"Give New Mexico State credit," Nevada coach Kim Gervasoni said. "They came out and played hard and hit big shots. They shot it really well.
"I'm proud of my team. We fought back from a deficit a few times. We dug ourselves a hole. We had to keep fighting out of it, and that takes a lot of energy."
And, Nevada has to shoot better. The Pack women were an ugly 22 of 70 from the field, and probably missed 12 to 15 shots from point-blank range. Many times the Nevada women would get a turnover and not convert.
"We did cause a lot of turnovers for them," senior Traci Graham said. "We did not finish around the basket, which really hurt us. NMSU hit their little shots around the basket."
Despite shooting 32 percent and turning the ball over 10 times, Nevada trailed only 31-27 thanks to a half-ending 7-1 run in the final 3 1/2 minutes.
The Aggies scored 20 of the next 24 points to increase their lead to 51-31 with 13:05 remaining.
Cecilia Russell-Nava drained a 3-pointer to start the surge, and that seemed to set the tone for the second half. Monique Bribiescas knocked in a trey to make it 39-31 and Russell-Nava drilled two in a 35-second span for a 45-31 lead.
Neither team scored for the next 90 seconds, but Sherell Neal and Tyshae Walton scored on lay-ups to up the lead to 49-31 with 14:23 left.
Nevada wasn't through, however. The Pack scrapped and outscored New Mexico State 25-12 to pull within seven, 63-56, with 1:10 remaining. Graham, who was an ice-cold 6-for-25 from the field, did come alive and score nine points during that stretch. Preslar added seven of her 19.
"The threes really helped our momentum, confidence and energy," NMSU's Russell-Nava said. "When we made the threes, it made them guard us harder on the outside, which then opened up inside."
Russell-Nava said the team's 13-17 record isn't indicative of its ability.
"We have played in many close games throughout the year and they have not gone our way," Russell-Nava said. "The tournament is kind of do or die, win or go home. It is great to make it to the championship game, but we want a ring and go to the big dance."
The trip to the finals doesn't surprise coach Darin Spence.
"I have always thought we were better than our record reflected," Spence said. "We are a work in progress. Our goal is to eventually wear white in all three games, and we will get there."