Not an easy win
Despite struggle, Mavs clinch RMAC regular-season crown
Winning a second straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular-season title wasn’t celebrated Saturday night.
The Colorado Mesa University women’s basketball team nearly blew a 31-point lead, struggling down the stretch in a 69-58 victory over Western New Mexico at Brownson Arena.
“That’s the bright part of it,” senior guard Taylor Rock said of extending the Mavs’ winning streak to 23 games, 34 in a row at Brownson. “I think we started playing the scoreboard a little bit. You saw what we could do in the first 10 minutes, held them to six points in that first 10 minutes (actually 11:29), and then we started playing the score, maybe got a little fatigued, but we can’t make excuses.”
Those first 10 minutes were a case of the Mavericks executing on both ends of the floor, challenging shots, controlling the boards and running the offense at a high level.
At the media timeout of the first half, Mesa was shooting 63 percent (12 of 19) from the field to Western New Mexico’s 7.7 percent (1 of 13) and had 10 assists on 12 made baskets, leading 30-6.
They made only 10 baskets the rest of the game. The Mavericks hit 16 free throws after the midway point of the first half, which allowed them to keep their record unblemished.
Rock said the Mavericks (23-0, 19-0 RMAC) were locked in until that first-half media timeout.
“We weren’t as aggressive as we were in those first 10 minutes,” she said. “We started to relax a little bit, and it came back to bite us a little bit.”
CMU coach Taylor Wagner made it clear in the second half he won’t accept a lack of effort on the defensive end.
After four minutes of the second half, he cleared the bench. It wasn’t because the Mavs were up 51-33 at the time — it was because he’d seen enough lackadaisical defense.
The second team played the next nine minutes, and although it struggled to score, the defensive effort was there.
Western New Mexico cut the lead to 10 before Leanndra Gilbert hit a 3-pointer, and when the starters came back with 6:27 to go, they had a 13-point advantage.
“They struggled to score, but defensively they got after it, and that’s what I’m looking for,” Wagner said, “someone who wants to go out and dive on the floor and get rebounds. That’s how it’s going to be the rest of the year. You don’t want to play defense or give effort, we’re going to play whoever’s ready on the bench.”
The Mustangs’ point guard, RaTanya Newsome, hit a driving layup and was fouled on the first possession after the starters returned, and Wagner immediately pulled his two guards at the top of the defense, Christen Lopez and Sharaya Selsor, for about 30 seconds.
Western New Mexico (10-14, 7-12) pulled within six points with plenty of time to pull off the upset, 4:43, but Aubry Boehme made the defensive play of the game with 3:33 left.
She blocked Stephanie Moore’s shot inside, grabbed the rebound and got the Mavericks out on the break. Rock buried a 3-pointer from the wing on an assist from Selsor, just enough breathing room when the Mustangs couldn’t knock down a shot late.
Selsor led CMU with 19 points, 15 in the first half, and backup point guard Erin Reichle scored 13.
“We should have put the dagger in in the first half,” said Wagner, who early in the game was urging the Mavericks to keep pushing the pace on both ends of the floor, to keep the momentum. “That’s our fault. ...
“We talk about the next best action when you make a mistake, and we didn’t do that. We compounded our mistakes, and it got close. Luckily we made enough or they missed enough shots at the end that we got it done.”
Rock and Wagner agreed it’s up to the players to figure out the recent funk.
“We’re only as good as we want to be,” Rock said. “If we want to get to where we want to go, we have to step it up, dig down deep and fight through this little bit of adversity.”
The Mavericks have three games left in the regular season to get that accomplished.
“They can be good, they can be great, they can be awful,” Wagner said. “We showed that tonight. We showed that this weekend. If they want it, it’s theirs. If they don’t ... it’s going to be hard. I don’t think they realize how difficult it’s going to be. You can’t just play 15 minutes in a game and win an RMAC Shootout tournament or a region tournament. It just won’t happen that way.”