Mavericks fall just short in battle with West Texas A&M
CANYON, Texas — It seemed even bigger than a regional championship game.
Sharaya Selsor said it last week, before the regional pairings were even released. One team, be it Colorado Mesa or West Texas A&M, was going to miss out on a well-deserved trip to the women’s NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
As it turned out, Selsor and the Mavericks will be the team left at home after a heartbreaking 59-56 loss Monday night to West Texas in a game that was even better than people dared think it could be.
“I really felt like that game was a Final Four game or a national championship,” CMU coach Taylor Wagner said after the Mavericks (30-2) came up one possession short of advancing. “It’s too bad only one can go on, but I’d like to congratulate West Texas. They’re deserving to go. Great team, great coach. They made one more play than us.”
West Texas coach Mark Kellogg, in his first year in Canyon and only two years gone from Fort Lewis, echoed Wagner.
“That was unbelievable,” he said. “It was everything and probably more than we thought it would be. I told you I thought it would come down to the last five minutes, and it certainly did. The way Division II works, this is a national semifinal, a national final-type game. Just the way it works, you get No. 4 and No. 5 in the same region. It’s fun because we get it on our home court and won, but really, that’s an Elite Eight matchup.
“Mesa is that good. They’re that talented. They’re special in a lot of ways.”
The Mavericks’ intent was to get West Texas out of its 2-3 zone, and right away, they did. A steal by Christen Lopez turned into a corner 3-pointer by Taylor Rock.
Selsor buried a 3 from the corner, and Leanndra Gilbert made one from the wing, all in the first 3 1/2 minutes. Mesa led 9-4, and the Buffs (30-2) were switching from a zone to man to a box-and-one, chasing Selsor, back to man, back to zone ...
“We threw everything we had at them,” Kellogg said.
In front of a near-sellout crowd of 3,365, the high-scoring Buffs, who scored an average of 84.5 points in their first two regional games, couldn’t solve Mesa’s NCAA-tournament-best defense. Entering the title game, Mesa was the best of the 64 teams in the field when it came to defense, allowing only 46.5 points per game.
After the quick start, the Mavericks struggled somewhat in the first half to get into an offensive rhythm because of the Buffs’ defense. They apply just enough pressure in the backcourt to not allow teams to get out in transition, and in the half court, the Mavericks committed 16 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, leading to 10 West Texas points.
“Way too many in a game like this where it came down to one possession,” Wagner said. “The second half, we couldn’t block anybody out, and they had 16 offensive rebounds in the second half. That was the tale.
“We just couldn’t block off (Chontiquah White) or (Devin Griffin).”
Colorado Mesa turned the ball over only four times in the second half, twice on offensive fouls that wiped out baskets.
White, the tournament MVP, and Griffin combined for 40 points and 23 rebounds. White had eight of the Buffs’ 16 offensive rebounds. West Texas scored 22 second-chance points to Mesa’s seven.
Casey Land of West Texas and CMU’s Selsor and Hannah Pollart also made the all-tournament team.
“They’re hard to move,” Pollart said. “We really had to work our feet to get around them, and if you get around them and a shot goes up, they have position inside you, and they’re hard to get back around and block out. They’re tough. They controlled the paint tonight.”
Pollart picked up three first-half fouls trying to not only keep Griffin from driving, but help on White when she got deep in the paint. Gilbert also had three fouls in the first half spelling Pollart, but she scored seven points to keep the Mavericks within range, down 23-20 at halftime.
In the second half, Pollart got the Mavericks going offensively. Positioned at the high post, she found the holes in the West Texas zone and scored Mesa’s first 11 points of the half.
“We just went with what was working. We took what they gave us,” said Pollart, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds. “We didn’t try to make things happen. I think in the first half we tried to make things happen, and in the second half we just let things happen.”
The Mavericks took a 43-42 lead with 8:06 left on a bucket inside by Pollart. She then grabbed a loose ball, and Selsor finished with a baseline jumper, then cut into the paint and took a pass from Pollart with 6:42 to play, and the Mavericks had the momentum and a 47-44 lead.
They needed one more stop, but Raven Gerald scored and was fouled. She missed the free throw, and White came up with the offensive rebound that really hurt CMU.
Rock and Boehme tried to block White’s putback, and Rock was called for the foul. White made both free throws.
“We weren’t going to outjump them, and I told them we have to block out, and we struggled with that a little bit,” Wagner said. “I think we got a little bit tired, and they just made plays when they needed to.”
The game was tied four times, and the lead changed 15 times. The largest lead was eight points, when West Texas went on a 9-2 run to open the second half. Mesa’s biggest lead was five, coming in the first four minutes of the game.
Selsor, who scored 16 points and finished her career with 1,497, third in CMU history, got a steal and a layup, then hit a clutch 3-pointer, getting free at the top of the key with 1:42 to play.
That 3, the final points of her career, cut the lead to 58-56 and gave the Mavericks a chance, even when Griffin got the benefit of a block/charge call against Rock with 21 seconds left and made one of two free throws.
Selsor was triple-teamed at the top of the key with six seconds left as she tried to get off a game tying 3-pointer, and she was called for traveling. Lopez stole the ball, but her 3-point attempt left her hands just after the final horn sounded, sending the Buffs to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009.
“We made a huge stop after Selsor made the huge 3 to get it close,” Kellogg said. “She’s a big-time player, she’s going to make a big-time shot. You expect her to do that. We just probably made one more play than they did.”
The loss ended the careers of six seniors — Boehme, Pollart, Rock, Lopez, Hanna Bowden and Selsor. In two seasons, the Mavericks have gone 61-4, the two best seasons in school history.
“They’re awesome,” Wagner said, stopping a couple of times to fight back tears. “I told them in there ... I pushed them to the brink every day in practice, and they kept coming back. That’s what I love most about them.”
Selsor finished with not only the top scoring season in school history (750 points), but set single-season records in free-throw percentage (88.5), 3-pointers made (88) and was second in field goals made (228).
“I wouldn’t have wanted to finish any other place,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I’m a very proud CMU student and athlete, and I hope they continue to put CMU on the map. If I have left anything, I hope it’s that they’re going to work hard to get back here and continue to represent. I’m so proud; I always will be.”