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Louisiana Tech beats New Mexico State

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Editor

RENO – New Mexico State fired the first salvo, but Louisiana Tech threw the knockout punch and won the war.

The Lady Techsters went scoreless for the first six minutes of the game, but righted themselves with a 40-point second half en route to an easy 63-39 win over the Aggies in the Western Athletic Conference women’s championship game Saturday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center.

It was the 15th conference championship for the Lady Techsters and the 899th win in the program’s storied history. Tech finished 26-4. New Mexico State, seeded seventh entering the tournament, finished the season 10-20.

“New Mexico State gave us everything they had,” Tech coach Chris Long said. “They hit us in the mouth right off the bat. We had a pity party for the first eight minutes of the game. They had to figure it out for themselves. If we were down 16-2, I would have called timeout.

“We defended enough when we couldn’t score. The seniors wouldn’t let us lose. I am proud of this team. We did not play our best game by any stretch of the imagination.”

The seniors Long was referring to were tournament MVP Tasha Williams who finished with 19 points and Aarica Ray-Boyd, who scored 11 of her 15 points in the final 20 minutes.

“It’s an awesome honor,” Williams said. “I don’t focus too much on it. I stepped up and left everything on the floor.”

New Mexico State coach Darin Spence was impressed with the diminutive 5-foot-7 Williams.

“She’s the best player in the league by far,” Spence said. “I don’t know how she didn’t get MVP. That voting is crazy. She makes them go.”

Even Williams admitted her energy level wasn’t where it needed to be early in the game.

“I know this team works off my energy,” Williams said. “Early on, I wasn’t providing the energy we needed.”

The first half was about as brutal as it gets. The teams combined to shoot 12-for-62 from the field, including a putrid 4-for-32 performance by New Mexico State, which set a new WAC record.

The Aggies went 2-for-15 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes, and those two successful shots came in the first 3 minutes 9 seconds. The Aggies missed their last 13 3-point attempts.

“Our approach isn’t to shoot a bunch of 3’s,” Spence said. “Our offensive philosophy is to go inside out. They are long and athletic.”

Despite the poor shooting, the Aggies led for the first 12 1/2 minutes. New Mexico State scored eight straight points to open the game on 3-pointers by Tristan Baker and Monique Bribiescas and a bucket by Sherrell Neal.

A 7-1 run by the Lady Techsters closed the gap to 11-10 with 8:13 left. Three free throws gave the Aggies a 14-12 lead, but a 11-3 run by Tech gave them a 23-15 lead with 2:20 left in the half. Amber Metoyer started the rally with a layup, Ray-Boyd drained a 3-pointer, Williams knocked down two free throws and a bucket in traffic. Jenean Ford, who finished with 10 points, sank a free throw to make it 21-15. Ty Moore completed the barrage with a basket from the right block.

Long said it was his team’s defense which got the game back in its favor. New Mexico State didn’t score a field goal the final 10 minutes 52 seconds of the half.

The teams traded baskets until midway in the second half until the Lady Techsters went on a 16-3 run to open up a 51-33 edge with 6:15. Stick a fork in the Aggies. They were done.

Williams scored seven points in that run and Ray-Boyd drained a 3-pointer, but again Long lauded his defense, which forced four turnovers in that stretch.

“I think we got lax with our defense,” Ford said. “I know I didn’t play as tough as I did in the first half.”

And, while NMSU couldn’t mount much defense the second half, the Lady Techsters certainly could.

“We definitely made big stops (in the second half),” Long said. “We got some shot-clock violations. That kind of changed it. We fed off that. We got into the passing lanes and got easy baskets.”