LAS VEGAS – Stacey Barr was the Western Athletic Conference women’s basketball Player of the Year, and on Friday afternoon she outperformed a pair of prolific Aggies as Idaho beat New Mexico State 75-65 in the WAC tournament semifinals.
The Vandals will play Seattle today for their second consecutive tournament championship and automatic NCAA berth.
NMSU’s Sasha Weber, a sophomore from Lacey, Wash., hit all five of her 3-point attempts in the first half, including four in the game’s first 7 minutes as the fifth-seeded Aggies (11-19) took an early 17-7 lead over top-seeded Idaho (23-8).
After halftime, it was Danesia Williamson who shouldered the Aggies’ scoring load, scoring 16 of her 26 points in the second half.
Because of Weber’s hot shooting, NMSU appeared poised for the upset, leading by as many as 13 before the Vandals closed to within 41-35 at the half.
“We got in a hole quickly, Weber was on fire; we know they’re prone to do that,” UI’s Jon Newlee, the WAC Coach of the Year, said. “I feel like we took their best shot in the first half, and to only be down six with the way … everything was kind of conspiring against us in the first half … I felt good about that. In fact, I really felt good about that.”
Throughout the game Barr consistently matched the NMSU duo’s offensive production, efficiently scoring 35 points on just 19 shots. Barr made 11 of 19 shots, 2 of 5 3-pointers and 11 of 12 free throws.
Barr’s running mate in the win was forward Alyssa Charlston, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds despite being sidelined for much of the first half with a pair of early fouls.
At halftime, Newlee made the adjustment of putting Charlston, a forward, on Weber in the second half, a move that turned the game in favor of the Vandals. Because of Charlston’s length she was able to go around screens, rather than fight through them, and still get a hand in the shooter’s face.
The switch flummoxed Weber, who went 0 for 7 in the second half and scored just one point.
NMSU struggled offensively without Weber’s outside shooting to stretch the defense and went scoreless for the first 7:29 of the second half. In that time, the Vandals rattled off 14 points to take a lead they would never relinquish.
“I thought we were out there with a hand in that shooting pocket like we talked about at the start of the game. You know they got flustered; you could see that,” Newlee said. “They were starting to fire up some really long 3s. I mean I know they do that usually anyway, but it was more so and I think it did frustrate them.”
Despite Friday’s victory, indications are that the Vandals still need to win today to receive an NCAA tournament bid.
“We’re going to be fighting for our lives, we’ve been fighting for our lives all season and we’ve had the mindset that we don’t deserve anything,” Charlston said. “We’re going to earn everything we get.”
Seattle 84, Cal State Bakersfield 79: Kacie Sowell scored 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to lead the Redhawks (16-15) over the Roadrunners (19-11).