Triple the fun
Mavs win 3rd straight RMAC regular-season title
As the final seconds ticked down, Leanndra Gilbert stood alone in the backcourt at Brownson Arena, her arms outstretched.
As the horn sounded, she slowly lifted her arms above her head in victory as the crowd roared and her teammates rushed to her.
The senior forward, who was the consummate role player her first three years, saved her finest game for the regular-season finale, scoring 21 points Saturday night in Colorado Mesa’s 66-52 victory over Fort Lewis.
“I wanted to go out with a bang,” Gilbert said. “We’re not done, but it’s a big deal, seeding, hosting, Senior Night, so many things on the line, I just wanted to get it done.”
It was the 51st consecutive victory at Brownson Arena for the Mavericks, who haven’t lost at home in three-plus seasons, and, more importantly, clinched CMU’s third consecutive RMAC championship in a season few thought the Mavericks could three-peat.
“Everybody had an excuse as to why we wouldn’t or why we couldn’t,” CMU coach Taylor Wagner said. “I don’t think they’ve given credit to the girls for how hard they’ve worked. We’ve played everybody that everybody else did, and they stuck with it. They had to grind it a little more.
“I think it’s satisfying to them and for me that we did it with a brand-new team and did it all together. It’s fun.”
Colorado Mesa (22-4, 19-3 RMAC) plays Western New Mexico at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the RMAC Shootout quarterfinals at Brownson Arena. If the Mavericks win, they will host the conference semifinals and championship game March 6-7.
It wasn’t only Gilbert’s scoring that made the difference against Fort Lewis. She deflected passes in the post, took a couple of charges — one of which kept her on the floor for a few minutes as she caught her breath — and hit the key 3-pointer in the second half to finally give the Mavericks the lead for good.
In the first half, the biggest advantage was five points, which Fort Lewis had with 8:41 on the clock.
The game was tied five times in the first half, but Fort Lewis kept the advantage by controlling the offensive boards.
The Skyhawks crushed Mesa on the boards, with 47 total and 17 offensive. Mesa, which had 25 rebounds, allowed only eight second-chance points.
“One thing I was concerned about, they kept getting offensive rebounds,” Wagner said, “but we stuck with it and didn’t turn the ball over and that definitely helped us quite a bit. I’m just proud of the girls.”
Mesa turned the ball over only nine times, and forced 25, scoring 25 points off turnovers to Fort Lewis’ eight.
“We committed to 20 minutes of defense and 20 minutes of making them work hard,” Gilbert said of the halftime talk — CMU trailed 33-32. “They’re not going to score easy buckets any more. It worked. All the things Coach Wag has been saying the past five months, it actually works. It’s not like we don’t listen, but when we really listen, oh, man.”
Gilbert made the athletic play of the game on defense, tipping a pass intended for Fort Lewis post Mary Brinton, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds, then leaping to snatch the ball and toss it behind her before landing out of bounds.
She added a 3-pointer with just less than four minutes to play with the shot clock running down, then took a charge. With 3:13 on the clock, she grabbed an offensive rebound, put it in and drew a foul.
Gilbert threw her head back and let out a scream as the Mavericks’ lead grew to 11, 59-48.
Gilbert said this title might be a bit more special to her than the first two because of the role she played.
“It feels so different. It didn’t seem like we won a third until Jermaine (Williams, the Mavs’ public address announcer) said it. I was like, ‘Oh crap, we did it.’ It’s an incredible feeling. How many people can say you’ve done it three years in a row?”