On the attack
Aggressive play on both ends lifts Mesa into regional final
CANYON, Texas — Two scorers are a must. Three is better. Four? Well, that makes the Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team just about unstoppable.
Hannah Pollart made the Mavericks unstoppable Saturday night in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II South Central Region basketball tournament, scoring a dozen points and pulling down as many rebounds in Mesa’s 66-44 victory over Tarleton State (Texas) University.
“They were (helping off on Aubry Boehme), and my teammates hitting open shots helped me tonight, and I was able to get in there and get a couple more buckets,” said Pollart, who averages 6.8 points per game.
The victory puts the Mavericks (30-1) back in the championship game for the second straight year, one game away from the Elite Eight. After a day off today, Colorado Mesa plays West Texas A&M at 6 p.m. (MDT) Monday in a matchup of the top two seeds. The Buffs rallied in the second half to beat St. Mary’s 79-66.
“They’re really good,” CMU coach Taylor Wagner said. “They’re hosting it, and they’re worthy of being here ... It’ll be a great matchup. They’re excited, we’re excited. We both want to move on. I think it’ll be a fun game.”
The Mavericks will use the experience they gained last season winning the first regional title in program history to their advantage.
“I think it’s big, but luckily the girls who played in last year’s regional games aren’t the only ones who have been in big games,” said senior guard Sharaya Selsor, who led the Mavericks with 20 points in the semifinal game one night after being held to a season-low nine points.
“We’ve got six seniors who have a lot of experience in really big games. I think tonight kind of showed that experience. We were able to go out and be calm and confident and really push through any adversity that might have rattled us for a second. I think it’s huge. I think experience is definitely on our side, and we need to roll with that.”
They certainly used it to roll past Tarleton, controlling the boards 35-22 and holding the TexAnns to 31.6 percent shooting in the second half. Mesa shot 45 percent.
Mesa hit its first three shots and grabbed offensive rebounds on back-to-back misses, with Pollart scoring on a putback for a 10-4 lead.
With the TexAnns (22-9) backing off Pollart to help inside against Boehme, the 5-foot-11 senior buried a 3-pointer on Mesa’s second possession, only the fifth 3-pointer she’s hit this season. Selsor followed by coming off a screen and netting a 3 in the corner, and the Mavericks had the start they needed.
“We wanted to start (Friday) like today, but that didn’t happen,” Wagner said, chuckling. “The first five minutes are very important for us, like any team, in each half. We weren’t very tentative. That was the key. We were aggressive.”
The Mavericks moved the ball and cut hard off screens offensively, and defensively they did a good job containing Tarleton’s 6-1 senior center Kiara Wright. Boehme had the main defensive assignment, with Pollart helping double if she got deep in the paint. Wright finished with 14 points, the only TexAnn in double figures.
“Aubry and Hanna (Bowden) did an amazing job on (Wright) tonight,” Pollart said. “They really set the tone by playing good defense on her, and we helped a lot and got a lot of steals because of the way they played defense on her. They did a great job inside on her.”
In the second half, point guard Christen Lopez helped on the baseline, using her quick hands to knock the ball away and come up with a career-high seven steals. She also scored 10 points, had five assists and only two turnovers.
“I think two weeks ago, I said, ‘Just use your instincts,’ ” Wagner said. “We got so robotic. We’re supposed to do this and that, and I just said, ‘Use your instincts,’ and tonight she was. She was all over. That’s what I love about her; she’s quick and she was a warrior tonight.”
Only 5-4, Lopez stepped in and tried to take a charge against Wright, who is solidly built. She was called for the block, but that reinforced the Mavericks’ attitude to take the game to the TexAnns.
“The teams that are aggressive stay, the passive teams go home, and that’s what we’ve been telling our team,” Wagner said. “You can’t be passive in the post or on the perimeter.”
On the offensive end, Lopez fed Boehme a perfect lead pass when the Mavs’ 6-foot center pinned her defender and was wide open for a lob and a bucket. Midway through the second half, Lopez spun her defender and had a wide-open path to the basket for a layup and a 52-36 lead.
After Tarleton hit a 3-pointer, Lopez and Taylor Rock connected for back-to-back screen-and-rolls that resulted in wide-open layups for Lopez and a 56-39 lead with 7:56 to play.
“I think they were getting a little bit tired, and (the defender) got hung up on the screen,” Wagner said. “Christen did a great job setting it up, and in our sets there’s three or four options. Luckily, we got the first one on those.”
It was definitely a different team than people saw Friday night. Boehme continued her stellar play in the playoffs with 15 points and eight rebounds. Selsor was back to her old self, taking what the defense gave her, hitting a couple of 3-pointers. She didn’t force drives to the basket, instead hitting midrange jumpers.
“My teammates set me up with some really good screens,” Selsor said. “I got some open looks. I was open a little bit more on the perimeter tonight. I think the reason that was the case was because we were getting stops defensively. Any time we play well defensively it always translates to good offense.”