Mesa hangs on
Defense keys Mavs' win vs. Mustangs in regional
CANYON, Texas — Taylor Wagner liked all but about 10 minutes of Friday afternoon.
The first five minutes and the final five minutes of the Colorado Mesa women’s basketball game, he could do without.
Keyed once again by their defense, the Mavericks (29-1) got past Midwestern State 60-49 in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II South Central Region tournament. The Mavs won despite turning the ball over a season-high 27 times, which led to 29 Midwestern State points.
“I was really pleased for about 30 minutes, we played great basketball,” the Mavericks’ coach said. “The first five and the last five we kind of struggled a little bit, and that’s probably due to coaching. It’s on me. I should have had those girls a little bit better prepared for that press.”
Second-seeded Colorado Mesa plays third-seeded Tarleton State at 4 p.m. (MDT) today in the semifinals. Tarleton defeated West Texas A&M International 70-55.
Top-seeded West Texas A&M advanced with a 90-73 win over St. Edward’s and fifth-seeded St. Mary’s eliminated CSU-Pueblo 63-57.
With Midwestern State employing full-court pressure, the Mavericks turned it over early, then righted the ship and found the Mustangs’ weakness.
Mesa, which trailed 9-0 right off the bat because of four turnovers and five missed shots, including three layups, got a 15-foot jumper from Aubry Boehme nearly five minutes into the game, then took a collective breath.
“Midwestern, I think, channeled (its nerves) a little bit better into energy and getting into their offense,” Mesa guard Taylor Rock said. “I feel like once we got that first score we settled down and started playing defense and went from there.”
Boehme scored eight of the Mavericks’ first 10 points as they slowly got into an offensive rhythm by shutting out the Mustangs for seven minutes.
Boehme was too much for Midwestern’s Taylor Dowd, a slender 6-foot-3 junior. The Mavs’ 6-foot senior finished with 19 points before fouling out late in the second half.
“I didn’t feel too much pressure from them,” Boehme said. “Our guards did a great job making passes and reading it. That’s so important for me to get baskets, if they can see and read a pass ahead. It makes my position easier when we can read each other like that.”
She helped take the pressure off the guards, who never had open looks from the perimeter.
“They put so much pressure on our wings, it opened up the inside a little bit, and going into Aubry was huge,” Wagner said. “She did a great job finishing there, and we got a couple of plays with girls cutting to the basket.”
Midwestern State (18-12) took its final lead of the game with 4:54 to play in the first half when Janae McJunkins hit a 3-pointer to go up 18-17.
That’s when Rock took over.
The senior guard attacked from the wing, curling into the paint for three straight layups as Mesa built a 28-22 halftime lead.
“These are the top eight teams out of three conferences, and you have to be ready to play,” Rock said. “They were shutting Sharaya down, but we had other people step up and make plays.”
Rock scored 13 points, hitting all five field goals, had four rebounds, three assists, blocked three shots and had two steals, with only one turnover, playing all but a few seconds.
That the Mavericks led at halftime without Sharaya Selsor scoring a single point was a testament to the defense and her supporting cast picking up the RMAC player of the year. Midwestern State stuck with Selsor everywhere she went.
She finally scored on a running layup 90 seconds into the second half, but she never got into a rhythm offensively. She finished with nine points, the first time all season she hasn’t reached double figures.
“First off, we wanted to keep it out of (Christen) Lopez’s hands, so they had to run some clock and run some offense,” Midwestern coach Noel Johnson said. “We really wanted to stay on Selsor and make her have to fight her way through screens with us on her hip.”
Selsor, in turn, limited the Mustangs’ top perimeter shooter, Kirsti Degelia, to nine points in her final game, only two points in the second half.
It was the defense Mesa played on All-American forward Andrea Carter that made the difference. Hannah Pollart and Leanndra Gilbert tag-teamed that assignment, refusing to let Carter get position inside, shutting her out in the first half. She finished with 15 points.
About three minutes into the second half, the Mavericks seized the momentum.
Selsor followed her own miss and muscled up a contested layup for a 32-28 lead.
That sparked a 19-3 run as the Mavs built the lead to 10, then 20 points, 51-31, with 8:30 remaining.
Mesa then got tentative against the full-court pressure, trying to dribble instead of pass through the press. And when that happened, the Mavs got trapped in the backcourt.
The lead started to dwindle, with Midwestern State going on a 17-3 run in a span of seven minutes. With one minute to play, the Mustangs had cut the lead to six, 54-48, but they had run out of time.
Selsor, Lopez and Rock combined to go 6 for 6 at the free-throw line in the final minute to stretch the lead back out.
“We held them to 29 percent (shooting), which is phenomenal,” Wagner said. “Besides the turnovers and the finish we had, I thought it was a great game for our girls.”