Zias upend No. 8 Rambelles

Eastern New Mexico University’s Heather Brown splits Angelo State defenders Natalja Tsurbakova, left, and Sarah West as she drives to the basket during the second half of Saturday’s game in Portales. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.

By Kevin Wilson

Tiana Bryant had a night to remember, and helped give Angelo State a night to forget.

The sophomore post scored a season-high 13 points and played a pivotal role in defending the Rambelle’s Natalja Tsurbakova as the Eastern New Mexico University posted a 71-66 upset over Angelo State on Saturday in a Lone Star Conference South contest.

Angelo State came into the game at Greyhound Arena with one loss and ranked eighth in NCAA Division II.

“Tiana played really well on defense and offense,” Zias coach Dan Buzard said. “That’s the best game she’s played since she’s been a Zia.”

Bryant was 6-of-11 from field and added six rebounds.

Tsurbakova, a 6-foot-3 post from Estonia, was named the LSC South Player of the Week on Monday.

“Basically, defensively, I felt that my job was to try to do my best to stop 45 (Tsurbakova),” said Bryant, who a mid-season transfer from the University of New Mexico. “My teammates did a good job of helping me out, because obviously I can’t guard her by myself.”

Bryant and the Zias (9-9, 3-2 LSC South) didn’t shut Tsurbakova down completely — she was averaging 22.5 points coming in and scored 20 Saturday on 7-of-13 shooting — but Buzard felt his team did what they needed.

“We just tried to get (defensive) help on her as much as we could,” Buzard said, noting that they tried to neutralize her spin move and turnaround. “She creates a lot of space on her post moves.”

The junior accounted for the first 15 points for ASU (16-2, 3-2) with four layups, a free throw and a pair of assists on jumpers from Megan Clift.

From that point on, though, Bryant and Jereena Bosket (team-high 18 points) got more accustomed to defending Tsurbakova and the guards helped out with double and triple-teams. Junior guard Laci Lee scored nine points and added three steals, while freshman guard Heather Brown scored 14 on 6-of-9 shooting.

Bryant scored two buckets during a 13-4 run that gave the Zias a 50-39 lead with 11:38 to go in the second half. The battle between the 6-foot Bryant and Tsurbakova took a backseat from that point on as 5-foot-5 Kelli Anne Goble rallied the Rambelles with her outside shooting. The senior hit three 3-pointers down the stretch, eventually helping Angelo State tie the game at 60.

“Kelli Goble’s a winner, she’s a competitor,” Buzard said after Goble finished with 16 points and added seven rebounds. “She’s never going to go down easy.”

In the end, the Rambelles’ shots wouldn’t fall and the Zias closed the game out from the free-throw line, hitting 10-of-14 in the final two minutes.

Bryant, who fouled out late in the game, showed a little of the versatility that took her from Goddard High School to UNM. After spending most of her freshman year on the bench, Bryant opted to sit out the fall 2003 semester and transfer to Eastern.

Like her role with the Zias, her choice seems to be getting better as the season goes.

“My teammates have helped me a lot,” Bryant said. “Coming out of UNM where you don’t get a lot of playing time, and taking a semester off and not playing for another six months, what you’ve got to do is have faith.”

ENMU 71, Angelo State 66
Angelo State (16-2, 3-2) —
Sharon Ballenger 1-7 4-4 6, Whitney Hoelting 2-8 0-0 4, Megan Clift 2-3 1-2 7, Natalja Tsurbakova 7-13 6-9 20, Kelli Anne Goble 5-9 3-3 16, Ashley King 0-0 0-0 0, Michele Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Tracy Allen 0-2 0-0 0, Courtney Nowlin 4-10 2-6 10, Asheia Haynes 1-2 1-2 3, Sara West 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-54 17-26 66.
ENMU (10-9, 4-2) — Jereena Bosket 5-9 8-10 18, Elizabeth Richards 2-5 2-4 6, Loren Scarlett 1-3 1-2 4, Heather Brown 6-9 0-0 14, Laci Lee 1-9 7-8 9, Casey Rodriguez 0-0 0-0 0, Mika Robertson 2-4 0-0 5, Kristi McGuire 1-3 0-0 2, Tiana Bryant 6-11 0-1 13. Totals 24-53 18-25 71.
Halftime — ENMU 35, Angelo State 31. 3-pointers — Angelo State 5-11 (Goble 3-7, Clift 2-3, Ballenger 0-1), ENMU 5-9 (Brown 2-3, Bryant 1-1, Robertson 1-2, Scarlett 1-2, McGuire 0-1). Rebounds — Angelo State 35 (Nowlin 8), ENMU 37 (Richards 10). Assists — Angelo State 6 (Tsurbakova 4), ENMU 13 (Lee 4). Total fouls — Angelo State 25, ENMU 22. Fouled out — Clift, Tsurbakova, Nowlin, Bryant. A — 900.