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New Mexico State upsets Fresno State

STEVE RANSON
Appeal News Service

RENO – New Mexico State’s women’s basketball team pulled off the upset of the Western Athletic Conference tournament Wednesday afternoon at Lawlor Events Center by scoring a 74-66 come-from-behind win over favored Fresno State.

This marks the second time in WAC women’s history that a seventh-seeded team has knocked off No. 2 when SMU upset Rice three years ago. NMSU now meets Boise State, an upset winner over Hawaii, Friday at noon.

NMSU coach Darin Spence called this the biggest win of the season for his 9-19 Aggies.

“Records mean nothing. We’re 1-0 now. It shows why they call it March Madness … or March sadness,” Spence said.

Fresno’s interim coach, Adrian Wiggins, commended the Aggies for the win.

“New Mexico State played a really good basketball game. They rebounded and shot the ball,” he said. “They played well enough to win.”

Fresno State exits the tournament with a 22-7 record. Wiggins said he hopes the Bulldogs still have a shot for an NCAA berth, but he said the team would also welcome a chance to play in the WNIT.

After trailing 30-24 at halftime and shooting only 30 percent from the floor, the Aggies bounced back with a 50-36 second half. NMSU’s perimeter shooting also warmed up as the Aggies made 50 percent (6-12) of their 3-pointers.

NMSU’s superiority on the boards also gave the Aggies second and third shots. For the game, NMSU outrebounded the Bulldogs, 49-30.

Fresno State led 42-31 with 15:17 left when the Aggies started their comeback.

The Aggies and Bulldogs waged a back-and-forth battle before NMSU put together a 9-2 run to slice the lead to a basket, 53-51. Cecilia Russell-Nava pulled up behind the arc and swished a 3-pointer.

After WAC all-league guard Mirenda Swearingen (18 points) sunk 1-of-2 free throws to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead, NMSU roared back to cut the lead to a point on two Andrea Roberson free throws.

Wiggins said Russell-Nava put the pressure on Fresno to respond offensively.

“We tried not to let them get open looks from the perimeter, but we broke down defensively a few times, and Russell-Nava hit a lot of big shots,” Wiggins said.

Chantella Perera hit a crucial trey for the Aggies to give Fresno a four-point lead, 57-53. Perera had her team’s only 3-pointers and finished with 14 points.

NMSU finally had the shot it was looking for under the four-minute mark.

With Fresno holding a 62-59 lead, Russell-Nava raced to the top of the key and hurriedly unleashed a 3-pointer that tied the game.

The Aggies’ sadness was turning more into March happiness with every trip down the court.

Fresno regained the lead when Perera canned a short jumper. With 2:33 remaining on the clock, the Aggies grabbed their first lead of the game when Monique Bribiescas positioned herself at the top of the key and buried a 3-pointer for a 66-64 advantage.

“I needed to step up to win; we all did,” she said with a smile about her go-ahead trey.

Fresno, which used an effective press and trap against NMSU during the regular season, tried to trap the Aggies in the corners. Fresno swiped the ball on a turnover, but Perera’s 3-pointer was long, and Britanni Green’s hook shot hit the rim’s edge.

The clock and the ability to make free throws down the stretch became NMSU’s biggest allies.

The Aggies added to their lead, 67-64, when Bribiescas converted 1-of-2 free throws. Fresno moved the ball down the court quickly, but Swearingen’s pass to Parrish bounced off the forward’s hands

For the rest of the game, NMSU relied on its free throw shooting, making 7-of-8 shots from the charity stripe.

Jenean Ford iced the game in the final 10 seconds with four free throws. She had 16 points for the Aggies, while Russel-Nava led NMSU with 17.

Parrish said she forced a lot of shots in the second half, and commended Ford for shutting down Fresno late in the game.