By Albert Luna
Rarely does a competitive, successful team bring back veteran leadership and savvy that is able to play now, and also have clear building blocks for the future. The New Mexico State women’s basketball team has the best of both worlds.
The Aggies took down the Seattle University Red Hawks on Thursday night in the Pan American Center, with a career-night from freshman Brooke Salas. The Aggies came into the matchup riding a six-game winning streak, with their last loss coming December 29 to Vanderbilt in the Fordham Holiday Classic in the Bronx, New York.
The Aggies were also fresh off of a two-game road trip that saw them pick up two more WAC wins against UMKC (68-62) and Chicago State (70-60), respectively.
The Red Hawks got off to a quick start offensively, using a corner three and a lay in to get to a 5-0 start off the bat. However, the Aggies used one of their patented full-court presses to counter the strong start from Seattle. Like we’ve seen countless times from State this season, they righted the ship. The Aggies, whose press is dependent on an offensive score, used an early Shanice Davis score to get into their press, which led to three steals in five defensive possessions, ultimately leading to a surge in easy baskets for NMSU.
Associate Head Coach Tamera Inoue says the full-court pressure is a testament to her team’s athleticism.
The Aggies took their first lead, 11-9, with the Red Hawks needing time to talk things over. The Aggies fell behind only one more time for the remainder of the half, with Davis pacing the Aggies for most of the first frame. However, in that second quarter it was all the Brooke Salas show. Salas scored 10 of the Aggies’ 15 second-quarter points, including two straight corner three pointers that got the previously dormant crowd into the game.
Salas, who started the season missing her first 19 attempts from deep, says she gets more comfortable as the season progresses.
“I think since then (the 0-19 start), I’ve gotten far more comfortable with my shot, as well as my coaches and my teammates,” she says.
The first-year guard finished the game with a stat stuffer of a final box score line, recording a career-high 20 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists in 30 minutes.
“I was feeling confident, I felt everything I shot was going to go in and if not, the next would go in,” Salas says.
Inoue was also quick to give praise to the California native.
“Brooke was definitely the player of the game and she stepped up big today, we’re really proud of her efforts,” Inoue says.
The Aggies had a 30-26 lead going into the break. The second half had much of the same for the Aggies, who outscored Seattle in the third frame after the Red Hawks used a small run to keep things competitive. However, by the fourth quarter, the Aggies simply had more in the tank en route to outscoring their opponent by 11 points in the second half, ultimately claiming their fifth WAC victory and staying perfect in 2016.
“We are a lot more confident compared to last year, our kids know they can win a game and they step up when they need to,” Inoue says.
Looking ahead, the Aggies will welcome Cal State Bakersfield in Pack the Pan Am 2.0, the latest ticket campaign by the athletic director Mario Moccia and the athletic department to get has many fans to a game as possible.
“We love crowds, we want to play in those big moments and we are grateful we’ve been awarded this opportunity to show the community what we’re about and how we do things,” Inoue says.
The game, which is Saturday at two p.m., is expected to be a near sell-out.
Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu
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