Mesa No. 2 in regional rankings, will travel to Texas

Taylor Wagner had one message Sunday night for the Colorado Mesa University women’s basketball team.

“If you don’t think we can win, you stay home. If you’re satisfied with this, stay home. When we come out Monday if you’re not ready to work, stay home. If you’ve checked out and got your spring break planned out, stay home.”

From the nods around the table in a conference room above Brownson Arena and the looks on the Mavericks’ faces, no one is staying home.

The players pretty much knew they would end up the No. 2 seed in the South Central Region rankings and be playing in Canyon, Texas, this week, even though they were holding out hope that their 28-1 record, second only to 29-0 Bentley (Mass.) University in Division II women’s basketball, might somehow change the regional ranking committee’s minds.

It didn’t.

“Personally, it kind of fuels the fire,” junior forward Leanndra Gilbert said Sunday night after the regional pairings were announced, confirming the Mavericks as the No. 2 seed and playing at West Texas A&M University beginning Friday.

The Mavericks play Midwestern State (18-11) at 1:30 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s regional championship game, won 69-65 by CMU. When West Texas popped in as the No. 1 seed in the region, it was met by a few “awwws” but that was the extent of the reaction.

“I know a lot of things go into it, but if you just go off straight record, it just seems (more) fair that way,” Gilbert said. “I know it makes the team more hungry to prove that we deserved to host.”

Wagner reminded the Mavericks that it will take complete focus and a continued buy-in to the defense they played in the RMAC Shootout last weekend on the way to their second straight conference tournament title.

And, he reminded them, it’s every play.

“Think about it, two or three possessions and you’ve got (the regional) here, understand that? Two or three possessions and you’re hosting,” he said, referring to the Mavericks’ only loss, by six points at Fort Lewis in the final game of the regular season.

“Two or three possessions and you’re going to the Elite Eight. Two or three possessions, you’re winning the national championship, OK?”

Nods all around.

“It was kind of like hit the refocus button,” Gilbert said of the loss to Fort Lewis. “We need to do this to win. It got us more in tune with what we need to do and what we were doing at the beginning of the season.”

Six teams from Texas and two from Colorado made the South Central field.

West Texas A&M (27-2) won the Lone Star Conference tournament and plays eighth-seeded St. Edward’s (19-8), which won the Heartland Conference tournament to receive an automatic bid, upsetting the top two seeded teams in the tourney.

CSU-Pueblo is the only other RMAC team to reach the regional. The ThunderWolves (22-8) are seeded fourth and play fifth-seeded St. Mary’s (19-9) in the other upper-bracket game.

In the bottom half of the bracket, Tarleton State (21-8) is seeded third and plays No. 7 Texas A&M International (19-8), with that winner facing the CMU-Midwestern winner in Saturday’s semifinals. The first round is Friday.The championship game is Monday at 6 p.m.

The Mustangs return their top two players from last season, forward Andrea Carter, who scored 18 points in the title game, and guard Kirsti Degelia, who had 20.

“We just focus on our game and what we do well and good things will happen,” Wagner said as the players headed home to finish laundry and figure out what all they need to do before leaving town in a couple of days.

“At this point, you’re going to play great teams and it really doesn’t matter who the opponent is. Everybody’s probably looking at their matchup going ‘Oh, no, oh, no.’

“It’s good that we’ve seen them before and we know what to expect from last year. We’re both two different teams, but they have a lot of the same girls. We might be a little bit different, but that’s OK.”

Wagner told the Mavericks that they’ll continue to look at one game at a time, but also reminded them, “In reality, it’s three games and you move on. I think we’ve gone on a three-game winning streak before, haven’t we?”


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