Rumble Mavs: CMU women prepared for regional final
CANYON, Texas — Mark Kellogg just laughed when asked if his prior experience playing Colorado Mesa would help him prepare his West Texas A&M women’s basketball team tonight.
“Well, no,” the Buffs’ coach said Saturday night after West Texas rallied to beat St. Mary’s University 79-66 in the semifinals of the South Central Region tournament.
“Taylor Wagner, I’ve never coached against him. They’re a whole new … they’re at a different level than what I remember. This is two years in a row that they’ve lost kids and replaced them.”
Kellogg was the women’s coach at Fort Lewis College from 2005-2012. In that span, he went 12-2 against the Mavericks, won three RMAC West Division titles and four overall conference titles, with two RMAC Shootout crowns. He led the Skyhawks to the regional playoffs in five straight seasons and in 2009-10, Fort Lewis was the Division II national runner-up.
While Kellogg had Fort Lewis in the national spotlight, the Mavericks’ program hit a lull. Mesa was 21 games under .500 in Timi Brown’s five seasons.
Roger Walters started the rebuilding process, going 38-42 in three years before unexpectedly resigning after the 2011-12 season.
In the final game of the 2010-11 regular season, the Mavericks defeated Kellogg and Fort Lewis 57-51, the first year Katrina and Sharaya Selsor and Kelsey Sigl played together.
Those three formed the foundation of Mesa’s resurgence in Wagner’s system last year. Sharaya Selsor, the RMAC player of the year and second-leading scorer in the nation, has been the heart and soul of this year’s team.
In Wagner’s two seasons, the Mavericks are a staggering 61-3.
“I’ve coached against some of these kids and recruited a couple of them, but Selsor is playing at a whole other level than I’ve seen her at,” Kellogg said.
“Different pieces than what I remember. I don’t know what advantage that’s going to be, probably none, because I don’t have a lot of knowledge on them.”
Most of the knowledge each coach has about the opposing teams in tonight’s South Central championship game was gleaned over the weekend as they watched the tournament games.
“They played great,” Kellogg said of the Mavericks’ 66-44 win over Tarleton State. “We thought Emporia (State, one of Buffs’ two losses) was really good and I would put Mesa really close to that class. They’re just defending everybody and not giving up many points.
“They’re physical and tough. We’ll have to match that or exceed it a little bit. It’s the two best teams in the region all year, we thought, and that’s the matchup we’re going to get.”
Wagner, too, has come away impressed by the Buffs, who play a 2-3 zone, will press on the inbounds pass and deep in the backcourt, and have the ability to score inside and outside.
It was hard not to be impressed by the second half of Saturday’s game, when the Buffs shot 70 percent from the field (14 of 20) to overcome a 15-0 St. Mary’s run in the first half.
Give the perimeter players a bit of space and they’ll knock down a 3 — they lead the nation in 3-point percentage, 40.3 — especially Casey Land and Lacee Logan.
Lose Chontiquah White on an inside screen and the solidly built 5-11 junior will hit layups and draw fouls.
The Mavericks (30-1) practiced Sunday, then spent the evening with their families or went to a movie. After a 55-minute shootaround this morning, they’ll watch film and get into the specifics of the scouting report and game plan in preparation for the 6 p.m. (MDT) tipoff.
“If we go do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to be OK,” senior center Aubry Boehme said. “Obviously they like to play a 2-3 and that’s something we don’t see every day, but I have confidence in us that we’re going to be able to get through whatever we face, 2-3, man, pressure.”
Boehme, the Mavs’ 6-foot transfer from the University of Wyoming, has been a go-to player all season, but in the playoffs has been even better, averaging 17.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in the past five games. A 61.3 percent shooter this season (third in the nation), she’s upped that to 65.9 percent in the playoffs, and is 26 of 30 from the free-throw line.
Mesa’s defense, though, has been the difference.
In five playoff games, the Mavericks have allowed an average of 49.2 points a game, even lower than their season average of 56.1, which is second in the nation.
Teams have shot a collective 35.5 percent from the field against Mesa’s defense, which is ranked fifth in the nation in field goal defense, 34.8.
“That’s the thing,” Boehme said. “Once we started doing it, we were like ‘OK, we can do this, let’s keep doing this.’ It’s obviously worked really well.”
The winner tonight advances to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Erie, Pa. Both Kellogg and Wagner want to make that trip.
“It’s a goal of ours to make it back to the Elite Eight,” Wagner said. “That last game in the Elite Eight we didn’t play to our potential, and I think it’s important to get back there and show everybody we’re worthy of being there.”