Balanced Zia squad holds off Southwestern Oklahoma State

CNJ Staff Photo: Kevin Wilson Zia guard Tori Northcutt strips a loose ball from Southwestern Oklahoma State’s Tobey Beer in the second half of Monday’s game at Greyhound Arena. Northcutt had six steals in Eastern New Mexico’s 59-53 victory.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ Staff Writer

When Cat Clay wasn’t knocking down big shots, her teammates were more than willing to give her another chance.

Clay scored 13 points, including three points on a key possession
late, to help Eastern New Mexico University post a 59-53 win over
Southwestern Oklahoma State Monday night at Greyhound Arena.

The Zias (9-7) held off a strong second-half challenge from the
Bulldogs, and needed an extended possession late to seal matters.

With 2:04 to go and a 52-50 lead to protect, both Til-Lois Fifer and
Clay missed second free throw attempts. Twice the Zias were able to
keep the possession alive with offensive rebounds.

“One of Til-Lois’ jobs is offensive rebounding,” Clay said. “I know
she saved my butt on that last free throw I ended up missing.”

Clay made the most of her second chance, knocking down a left elbow
jumper off the ensuing inbounds play for a 56-50 lead with 1:35 to go.

“I thought Cat hitting that shot was huge for us,” Zia coach Linden
Weese said. “I thought the three Cat hit in transition was really big
as well.”

That trey, with 9:18 to go, broke a 42-42 tie just minutes after the Bulldogs took their first lead with a 15-1 burst.

Leading 41-40 with 11:23 to play, Southwestern was hoping to steal a
game, but the late Zia spurt and 28-percent shooting in the first half
were too much to overcome.

“Not being able to hit a layup hurt, and we shot ourselves in the
foot with some of the decisions we made,” Southwestern coach Shelly
Pond said. “We gave up those two offensive rebounds, and that was
pretty much the end of it.”

Fifer had nine points and a team-high seven rebounds, while point
guard Tori Northcutt killed the Bulldogs (3-8) on both ends with an
efficient seven points, nine assists and six steals.

“I don’t think Tori really gets the credit she deserves,” Weese
said. “We put her on the toughest players. She’s a good floor general
for us.”

Northcutt’s assists went everywhere, as the Zias had six players with at least seven and only Clay reached double figures.

“I believe that one of our keys is balance,” Clay said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that can shoot the ball.”

Kara Bible, Vanessa O’Neal and Samantha Matta also had seven each for the Zias, who visit Texas A&M-Commerce on Thursday.

Jenna Sprague had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds,
and Jennifer DeGarmo and Lucy Ramon each added 11 for Southwestern.