Tia Doss goes up for a layup in the first half of Monday’s Lone Star Conference South Division game at Greyhound Arena. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)
By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — West Texas A&M came out with a rush Monday night.
The Lady Buffaloes used aggressive pressure defense to dominate the first 10 minutes and held on late for a 61-58 win over Eastern New Mexico University in the Lone Star Conference South Division women’s opener for both teams at Greyhound Arena.
Seniors Celeste Stevenson and Suni Jo Petty scored 17 points apiece for WT (8-4), which raced to a 27-12 lead with six minutes left in the half but had to fight off the Zias (5-7) down the stretch.
“We needed that,” veteran WT coach Bob Schneider said of his team’s fast start. “We lost two ballgames in a row at home, so we needed to come out with a lot of energy. I thought we did that for the most part, but Eastern’s a great basketball team.
“We were just fortunate to hang on.”
Junior post Tiana Bryant led four ENMU players in double figures with 14 points, while senior Mika Robertson added 13 points and 11 rebounds. Senior post Loren Scarlett and junior guard Heather Brown chipped in 10 points apiece.
Both teams were coming off close home crossover losses against Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State. The Zias, still without senior guard Laci Lee (foot injury), suffered their fourth loss in a row.
“I still think we’re a very competitive basketball team,” ENMU acting women’s coach Dustin Klafka said. “We’ve just got to keep believing that.”
Klafka said the Lady Buffs’ pressure forced the Zias to make some adjustments.
“We hadn’t seen pressure defense like that this year,” he said. “It took us a while to make the adjustments.
“Unfortunately, this weekend we (faced) three good basketball teams and came up on the short end.”
Petty’s 3-pointer from the right wing gave the Lady Buffs their 15-point cushion with 6:03 left in the half, but WT scored only one more basket over the next 5:45 and the Zias closed to 29-28 on two free throws by junior guard Ashley Davidson with 11.7 seconds left in the half.
ENMU then left WT’s Natalie Wheeler uncovered for a 3-pointer from the left corner — her only points of the night — to push the margin to four at halftime.
After the Zias tied it early in the second half, the Lady Buffs went on a 7-0 run. ENMU countered with a 10-2 surge, capped by Scarlett’s 3-pointer for a 43-42 advantage with 12:47 to go.
The Zias led twice more, the last time at 49-48 on Brown’s 3-pointer with 6:57 left, before Petty and Tiffany Lewis put the Lady Buffs ahead for good with treys on WT’s next two trips.
Robertson’s runner in the lane pulled the Zias to 59-58 with 43 seconds left. Scarlett then blocked Stevenson’s shot out of bounds with 20 seconds left, but the shot clock was mistakenly reset and ENMU had to foul.
Petty, fouled by Bryant with 9.7 seconds to go, converted both shots. WT’s Vosha Adams then stole a pass by Robertson near the top of the key and dribbled out the clock.
“We had some people step up for us,” Schneider said. “We hit some free throws down the stretch and just held on.”