Women's basketball is recognizable to followers of the men's game as mostly the same game, but there are significant differences. The pace is somewhat different; since the players are not usually as quick, the ball seems to move much more slowly up and around the court. However, the shot clock is only 30 seconds, so there are sometimes a few more possessions than there might be in, say, a Princeton-offense men's game. A few other rules are different: The ball is smaller to be easier for smaller hands to manipulate. There is no ten second limit to advance the ball into the frontcourt, though starting a couple of years ago, there is now a backcourt violation once the ball goes into the frontcourt. There seems to be a much greater talent disparity between the top eight to twelve programs in the country and everyone else; lopsided scores generally occur in games involving Tennessee, Connecticut, Stanford, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Baylor and Texas A&M that don't involve two of these. But generally it is the same game. Regular readers of midmajority.com will not be surprised that I follow New Mexico State women's basketball. Being here in Las Cruces, about 500 miles from the nearest other school below the Red Line, lends itself to heading to the gym whenever there's a game, whether that's volleyball, men's basketball or women's, and I am certainly one of the regulars. This has been a fun season to follow New Mexico State Aggie women's basketball. Head coach Mark Trakh is in his second year here, following successful terms leading the Pepperdine and Southern California programs, taking both to the NCAA Tournament. Besides the turnover of the coaching staff, Trakh has retained a few holdover players from the Darin Spence coaching regime: senior forwards Kelsie Rozendaal, Malia Magazzeni and Chrissy Fletcher, senior guard Camila Rosen, and junior forward Jasmine Rutledge; Rozendaal, who was granted a somewhat unexpected extra year of eligibility this year after going through all the senior day celebrations believing she was done last year, and Rosen have started when healthy; the others come off the bench, Rutledge more than the others. To add experience, Trakh has added two transfers to the roster: sophomore guard Danesia Williamson from the University of San Diego and senior guard Stefanie Gilbreath, whose three years at Southern California were marred by several knee injuries; though recruited to USC by Trakh, she did not get to play for him there. Adding to this mix are sophomore Simone Ruedin from Australia, the only one of last year's newcomers to return fo rthis season, and a bevy of freshman guards: Alexis Nelson from Illinois, Sasha Weber from Washington, Abby Scott from Oregon, Shay Young from Texas, and Elena Holguin from Las Cruces Mayfield High School; it is always good to have a local player on the squad. All the freshmen get at least some playing time; Weber starts more often than not and Scott is often the first player off the bench. This team has improved greatly from last year's version. Last year's team only won six games; this one has already won nine. In WAC games, last year's victory total of three was matched in the first four games. But this team also shares some important characteristics with last year's squad: particularly that they never, Never, NEVER give up. Their determination to achieve the best possible outcome in any situation they find themselves makes them an easy team to enjoy following. Despite the current losing streak, extended to four with two heartbreaking losses on the road this weekend (on a buzzer-beater at Utah State, and a one point loss at San Jose State), staying on board with this team as they continue to improve will be easy to do. My recap of last Saturday's game against the Idaho Vandals follows.
There are only two schools in the intersection of the set of schools that belonged to the Western Athletic Conference last year (2011-12) and those that will belong to the WAC next year (2013-14): the University of Idaho and New Mexico State University. Of course, there are only three of this
year's members that will return next year, adding Seattle University. Despite having that in common and despite having competed in the same conference most of the time since Idaho moved from the Big Sky to the Big West in 1996, this pairing does not seem to have become any sort of rivalry, for NMSU followers anyway. I guess the distances involved are too great for there to be much interaction between fans except for conference tournaments.
In women's basketball, the Vandals have a 19-9 advantage over the Aggies in the series that began in 1982, with the two teams splitting last year's games. NMSU got one of its three conference victories of 2012 over the Vandals in Las Cruces, 61-47; the Vandals took the game in Moscow to overtime, winning 61-59. Idaho arrives in Las Cruces with a 5-10 overall record and a 2-2 WAC record, losing at home both to conference leader Seattle and to Utah State, and defeating San Jose at home and Denver on the road on Thursday night. The Aggies' record stands at 9-6, 3-2 in the WAC including a home victory over Louisiana Tech, and road wins at UTSA and Texas State; their conference defeats have both come at home, in the opener against Texas-Arlington and Thursday when hosting Seattle.
Leading up to this game, Aggie senior Camila Rosen has missed the past several games fighting an illness, but she returned to the starting lineup tonight. Just under a thousand fans were on hand as center Kelsie Rozendaal won the opening tip for the Aggies. Vandal Christina Salvatore stole the ball from Rosen and scored the game's first points on a triple from the top of the key. The teams were back and forth without many clock stoppages for over six minutes, with the Vandals adding two more buckets, and the Aggies running off eleven, behind seven from guard Stefanie Gilbreath. After the first media timeout, Aggie guard Elena Holguin dropped in a three-pointer giving the Aggies a 14-7 lead before Idaho spurted out on a 24-5 run during which seven different Vandals scored; the run was capped by two Salvatore three-pointers and left Idaho with a 31-19 lead. The game continued to move along quickly as there were only four fouls by each team in the period. The half ended with Idaho leading 36-25.
Idaho had a very balanced first half scoring effort, with Salvatore and center Alyssa Charlston scoring nine each, and guard Stacey Barr seven. The Aggies were, as usual, led by senior Gilbreath's dozen points and eight rebounds; everyone else scored fewer than Rozendaal's four.
The second half began with Idaho pushing their lead gradually up to fifteen. The whistles came out in the second half making the game much slower and choppier; twenty-nine of the games' thirty-four free throws came after the intermission. An intentional foul by Vandal Krissy Carr resulted in some confusion as the officials sent the wrong player, Gilbreath to the free throw line, where she made the first and missed the second. After the under 12 minute media timeout, the error was rectified and the Gilbreath throws ignored; the correct player, guard Simone Ruedin then calmly made both throws. The Aggies, led by Gilbreath but with contributions from many, went on an 18-5 run to cut the margin to two with five minutes remaining. Jessica Graham making both ends of a one-and-one made the lead four, and two Idaho buckets following an Aggie turnover and a missed shot stretched it to eight. As time ran down, the Aggies made a pair of free throws, but missed four shot attempts, losing in the end by six, 57-51.
As has been the case for this New Mexico State team, when the shots are falling for at least two of the three key scorers, Gilbreath, Rozendaal, and guard Danesia Williamson, they will generally win. Tonight, Gilbreath's twenty-one points and eleven rebounds were not enough alone to carry the day. Rozendaal's six points and Williamson's two were just not enough help; freshman guard Sasha Weber scored nine, but the other three freshmen getting significant playing time (Abby Scott, Shay Young, Elena Holguin) only scored nine among them.
The victorious Vandals had outstanding scoring balance. Charlston's thirteen points and Jessica Graham's ten were the only double-figure totals, but Salvatore and Stacey Barr added nine each, Ali Forde eight and Connie Ballestero seven. Even though they were outrebounded by six, the Vandals' 38% shooting was enough better than the Aggies' 23% to carry the day.
New Mexico State, now 9-7 and 3-3 in the WAC, heads to the road for the rest of the first half of the conference schedule, visiting Utah State and San Jose State one weekend and Denver the next. Idaho (6-10, 3-2), gets Louisiana Tech and Texas-Arlington at home, followed by the trip to south Texas to face Texas State and UTSA.(My recaps of Aggie women's basketball are published at bleedcrimson.net. Here are links to the wrap-up of last season recapping the WAC tournament loss to Fresno State, an exhibition game with Fort Lewis College, non-conference matchups with Loyola Marymount, George Mason, California-Irvine, New Mexico, and Kansas City, and the first three conference home games: Arlington, Louisiana Tech, and Seattle.)