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New Mexico State upsets Louisiana Tech

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – New Mexico State will be the answer to a trivia question for years to come.

The seventh-seeded Aggies will be remembered for halting Louisiana Tech’s 25 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament with a 63-57 upset victory Wednesday night in the WAC quarterfinals at the Pan American Center .

Tech, which had made every NCAA women’s tournament, ended the season with a 17-13 record, which likely won’t be enough to qualify for NCAAs. New Mexico State improved to 12-17 and kept its season alive for at least another day.

“This is obviously a great moment for our program and I can’t be more happy for our kids,” said New Mexico State coach Darrin Spence, whose team faces Nevada at 1:30 p.m. Friday. “We just beat a heck of a ball team and I’m very proud of our kids.

“We battled and battled. They were kicking us on the offensive boards, but these kids stepped up and made plays down the stretch.”

Especially Cecilia Russell-Nava, who went 5-for-9 from the floor, including 4-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line to lead the Aggies with 15 points.

“I was pretty wide open and my teammates got me the ball so I just shot it,” said Russell-Nava, who was the vocal point of a 10-0 New Mexico State run late in the game.

Shan Moore gave the Lady Techsters a 54-50 lead with a 3-pointer with 4:22 remaining. Russell-Nava drilled a long 3-pointer to make it 54-53, and then Hannah Spanich put back a Monique Bribiescas miss to give the Aggies the lead for good 55-54 with 2:39 left.

After Tech missed on the ensuing possession, Janel Joy scored her third and final bucket of the day to make it 57-54. Russell-Nava capped the 10-0 run with another 3-pointer to make it 60-54 with 1:27 left.

Another key to New Mexico State’s finish was its defense. The Aggies’ defenders got their hands on a lot of balls, and forced two big turnovers in the last 90 seconds.

“I thought we played evenly throughout the game, but we were able to deflect some balls and get steals,” Russell-Nava said. “We want to finish differently than we did last season and hopefully win the championship.”

New Mexico State, which was the seventh seed last year, lost to Louisiana Tech in last year’s finals, 63-39.

“I am disappointed and I am sad for the seniors,” said Louisiana Tech coach Chris Long. “It is a lot of pressure to keep that streak going. We got off to a poor start in the season. The returners and the people we signed are going to go back to work and we will be back next year.”

FSU 72, HAWAI’I 47

Fresno State looked nothing like the team that struggled at times and finished fourth in the regular season.

The fourth-seeded Bulldog women opened the game with a 22-6 surge in the first 10 minutes, and went on to an easy win over fifth-seeded Hawai’i .

Fresno State moves on to a semifinal game against top-seeded Boise State Friday at 11 a.m.

“We had two tough games against Hawai’i already, and today they came out with lots of intensity and played tough,” Fresno State coach Adrian Wiggins said. “I’m very proud of what our team was able to do today. I’m especially proud of their mental toughness.

“We took their team out of their ball screens, and we came out playing with more energy than we have the past two games. We made some shots and we executed well. We had lots of ball pressure and lots of movement on the court.”

Chantella Perera, who led all scorers with 16 points, scored eight of her points in that span, and Paige Diggs scored four of her 12 in the early going to help the Bulldogs to the 16-point lead.

The Bulldogs, who shot 57 percent from the field, finished the half with a 42-23 lead. Hawai’i shot 32 percent from the floor.

Fresno State scored only four points in the first nine minutes of the second half, but Hawai’i only managed to shave four points off the lead, cutting the deficit to 46-31 with 11:57 remaining. Hawai’i never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.

“We kept control of the game and we dictated the pace of the game,” Perera said. “We kept fighting through the game, even through the slight slump we had in the second half.”

Hawai’i went 18 for 68 from the field, and quite frankly never got untracked offensively.

“They played a sagging defense and things were there, but our shots weren’t dropping,” Hawai’i coach Pat Charity said. “They prevented us from getting to the basket. We can’t make any excuses. Fresno had a great game today.”

The Bulldogs got a 13-point, 12-rebound game from Jenny Thigpin and 12 points from Tierre Wilson. Janevia Taylor led Hawai’i with 12 points.

BOISE STATE 81, SJSU 64

The Broncos overcame a sluggish start offensively to record a 43-point second half and knock off the Spartans.

Jessica Thompson scored 18, Michelle Hessing 16 and Rebecca Kepilino added 10 off the bench for the Broncos, who improved to 22-8.

Leading 38-31 at the half, the Broncos outscored SJSU 12-5 to start the second half en route to a 50-36 lead with 16:58 left in the game.

Jenna Galassi scored BSU’s first five points of the half and Jackie Lee followed with a jump shot to make it 45-31 with 18:09 left.

Brittany Powell (21 points) responded with a jump shot, but Hessing scored on a short jump shot and then Lee drained a 3-pointer to make it 50-33. SJSU cut the deficit to 50-38, but Kepelino scored a bucket and Thompson drained a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 17 with 14:38 left. The Spartans got no closer than 13 points the rest of the way.

Alisha Hicks scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for the Spartans.