Lopez's career night helps Mesa win RMAC Shootout
If it was the final game of their careers at Brownson Arena, the seniors on the Colorado Mesa University women’s basketball team made it one to remember.
The Mavericks won their second straight RMAC Shootout title going away Saturday night, 73-55 over sixth-seeded Black Hills State.
“I wanted to make sure the seniors got to go out again with the same conference championship, conference tournament championship,” CMU coach Taylor Wagner said.
With 53 seconds to play, Wagner cleared the bench, and the crowd of 1,973 gave the Mavericks a standing ovation.
Unlike last season’s thriller over Colorado Christian that had the students rushing the court at the final horn, this one was pretty much over with just less than 12 minutes to play.
That’s when tournament MVP Christen Lopez grabbed one of her four steals and finished with a baseline jumper for a 52-37 lead, and the Mavericks (28-1) were in control.
Only a handful of students came onto the court as the Mavericks huddled to celebrate, then picked up the trophy and started cutting down the nets.
“Well, it was a 20-point game,” Sharaya Selsor said with a grin.
“We have each other,” Aubry Boehme said, laughing.
“I think the police officers deterred that,” Wagner said.
“A couple of them tried,” Selsor said, laughing again. “A couple of them are really passionate about it.”
Lopez, one of five senior starters and six seniors on the team, scored a career-high 25 points, hit four 3-pointers and had four rebounds, five assists and only two turnovers in 39 minutes of playing time.
Mesa was incredibly efficient on offense in the first half, hitting seven of its first nine shots, building a 20-12 lead. The outside shot was the Mavs’ big weapon, hitting seven of 13 from the 3-point line in the first half, nearly 54 percent.
“I actually made the comment about that (at halftime), we were hoping that they would quit doing that,” Black Hills coach Mark Nore said of Mesa’s perimeter game. “I thought Lopez was great tonight, and Selsor is such a hard guard. They did a nice job getting the ball inside and then back outside. They can open things up, and when you’re not scoring or having problems scoring, that’s when it gets really difficult.”
Black Hills (15-14) wouldn’t go away, though, and cut a 13-point lead to only five in the final three minutes of the first half.
“There was a point we were up 13 with three minutes to go, and we let them back in the game,” Wagner said. “That was when we were kind of hoping to stretch it out. We let them back in, and at halftime we talked about the defense. They were shooting over 50 percent at the time, and you’re not going to beat many teams like that. We just focused on finding our guy and making them take tough shots.”
Chelsey Biegler, who made the all-tournament team along with the Yellow Jackets’ Dakota Barrie, who played every minute of the Shootout, had 15 of her 27 points in the first half.
Selsor finished with 19 points and Aubry Boehme 15 points, both making the all-tournament team, but the night belonged to Lopez.
With her family in the stands, and her brother bringing a giant cutout of his little sister’s head — “Oh, my gosh, I was so embarrassed,” she said — the 5-foot-4 point guard put on a show.
She doesn’t show a lot of emotion on the court — a smile and a high-five, or pointing to a teammate after a good play — but Lopez couldn’t help it Saturday.
With Mesa up 59-46 with 7:57 to play, she simply took over. Boehme kicked a pass to her from the post, and she buried a 3-pointer. With just less than six minutes left, another 3, this one from the wing.
Then, the Mavs called a play and she sliced along the baseline, hitting a tough layup in traffic and drawing a foul.
She came out of the logjam under the basket pumping both fists, then calmly hit the free throw.
And she wasn’t done. A baseline jumper on another kick-out pass from Boehme and the Mavericks had the 20-point lead that did in the Yellow Jackets, who have been on the road a week, upsetting No. 3 seed Fort Lewis and No. 2 seed CSU-Pueblo in the tournament.
“I was pretty excited,” Lopez said. “I felt like that was when we were getting in to the swing of things with those defensive stops and transferring to points.”
The defense once again gave the Mavericks easy baskets in transition, scoring 26 points off 21 Black Hills State turnovers. It wasn’t always picture-perfect defense, but the Mavericks closed off passing lanes and tipped numerous passes — Taylor Rock blocked a 3-pointer and grabbed the rebound to start one fast break — and oftentimes Lopez came out with the ball, speeding down the floor.
“Whenever you’ve got your other teammates putting up pressure, I get the glory of getting steals, but it’s really them putting pressure and giving them a lot harder time to pass the ball,” Lopez said.
By hitting 11 of 26 from the 3-point line in the game and forcing 12 second-half turnovers, the Mavericks just kept building the lead in the second half.
“Last night I really struggled going to the basket. The weekend was more aggressive than the season has been,” Selsor said of her five 3-pointers. “I just shot the 3 instead of driving it. It was a decent night for me personally, but for everybody else it seemed to fall. That’s what we need. We need other people hitting those going into these (tournament games). You’ve gotta have more than just your 1-2 guns firing.”
When asked if they felt ready for the regional playoffs, the players nodded in unison. They’ll find out at 8 tonight where the South Central Regional will be played, either at West Texas A&M or Brownson Arena.
“Definitely,” Lopez said. “We’re hoping this gives us momentum to carry over. If we do travel, if we stay here, it doesn’t matter. We’re ready.”