By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Even though Eastern New Mexico University was trailing by three points at halftime, Zias coach Linden Weese thought his team was on the verge of taking control.
Senior post Riikka Lehtonen collected 20 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes and the Zias dominated the final 10 minutes Friday to beat Lubbock Christian 73-61 at Greyhound Arena.
ENMU (8-3) snapped the Lady Chaps eight-game winning streak in a game which was hard-fought most of the way. Lubbock Christian (9-2) is ranked fifth in NAIA.
Weese said the key was to match LCU’s intensity.
“I told the girls (at halftime), ‘If you’ll just meet the challenge, I think we’re better than they are,’” he said. “We found something they couldn’t do anything about with Riikka, and the kids did a good job of finding her.”
Lehtonen posted a career scoring high, shooting 9-of-12 from the field with the help of numerous good feeds.
“Tonight, the defense was on my high side, so I could pin them,” said Lehtonen, a 6-footer from Finland. “The guards gave me some great passes, so all I had to do was catch them and go up.”
The Zias, who shot 57 percent (16-of-28) in rolling up 48 second-half points, also got 16 points from guard Missy Kirkland, 13 points and nine rebounds from forward Elizabeth Richards and 12 points from guard Heather Brown. Kirkland and Brown combined for 11 rebounds and nine assists.
“We had great spacing on the floor,” Lehtonen said. “The guards were on the 3-point line, so they had no help on me.
“I think we played as a team today. It was a fun game, and I bet it was fun to watch.”
Senior guard Ashley Hunter scored 19 of her 25 points in the second half for LCU, but the Lady Chaps had no one else in double figures. Hunter is a younger sister of former ENMU wide receiver Derrick Hunter, a two-time All-Lone Star Conference South Division selection.
Hunter hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Lady Chaps in front 46-42 before the Zias started a decisive 31-15 run.
Although they didn’t get many points off the bench — other than Lehtonen — the Zias got help from several reserves. Junior transfer Roni Gomez (broken wrist) of Portales played 19 minutes in her first action of the season, while sophomore guard Lindsey Wood also delivered some solid minutes.
“Lindsey’s played good all year long,” Weese said. “A lot of times what she does goes unnoticed.”
The Zias held LCU, shooting 48 percent for the year, to 36 percent overall, including 3-of-13 from 3-point range.