LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Heading into the final weeks ahead of the regular season, teams across the conference are looking to build momentum heading into 2023 WAC Tournament, hoping to propel themselves to the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico State (14-13, 8-7 WAC) was unable to make it two-straight wins, falling to California Baptist (15-11, 11-4) 73-65 on Saturday afternoon at the Pan American Center.
Tayelin Grays scored 15 points to lead NM State, while Molly Kaiser (14) and Taylor Donaldson (14) rounded out the double-digit scorers. Leisla Finau paced the Lancers with 22 points, including a team high three triples.
Despite owning advantages in second chance points (15-13) and rebounds (38-35) while drawing even in turnovers (15-15), bench points (15-15) and points in the paint (28-28), the Aggies could not keep pace with California Baptists three-point shooting. The Lancers made six more three pointers than the Aggies throughout the game, including eight second half made threes, bringing their percentage to an even 40%.
Both squads shot similar percentages from the field – The Aggies shot 38% for the game, just two percentage points shy of their season average while the Lancers shot 42% which is about three ticks higher than their average.
California Baptist won the tip, but Molly Kaiser controlled the ball to give the Aggies first possession. A steal by Ashlee Strawbridge turned into a driving left-side layup by Soufia Innousa to break the seal and give the Aggies a 2-0 advantage within the first minute of the quarter.
Three straight buckets by Molly Kaiser snapped a two and a half minute scoring drought in the game and put NM State on top 12-2 with 2:57 remaining in the opening stanza, forcing the Lancers to use a timeout and regroup. After holding California Baptist to 1-11 (9%) shooting through much of the opener, a 6-0 run sent the game to the second quarter with the Aggies ahead 12-8.
Tayelin Grays scored first in the second, knocking down a midrange jumper on NM State’s first possession. The Lancers offense continued to find their groove, scoring the next ten point in the contest to turn a six-point deficit into a four-point lead (18-14) with 6:01 remaining in the half. Molly Kaiser earned a trip to the free throw line, sinking both and snapping the scoring streak, though the Aggies would be without a made basket until Sylena Peterson drove into a congested lane and dropped in a runner. A Lancer triple gave them their largest lead of the game (23-18) with 3:32 left in the half, but the Aggies rallied to end the quarter on a 9-1 run and take a 28-26 edge into the locker room.
Through the first twenty minutes, neither team shot particularly well (21-66 from the field, 10-20 from the free throw line and 2-16 from three combined) or gained much separation in any way. Both teams committed ten fouls, grabbed 21 rebounds (including five offensive and 16 defensive boards), forced seven turnovers, and scored at the same rate in the paint (16-16). Molly Kaiser led all scorers with eight points, while a pair of Lancer and Tayelin Grays scored seven.
Molly Kaiser opened the third quarter with a baseline jumper, becoming the first player in double-digits while pushing the Aggies ahead 30-26 after just 24 seconds. NM State and California Baptist battled hard, keeping up the intensity from the first half, this time the offenses shining through. Both teams scored at least ten points through the first five minutes of action in the third quarter, but a pair of three-pointers gave the Lancers a slight edge with 5:09 remaining (41-38).
Sylena Peterson connected on a triple from the left wing, the first such field goal for the Crimson & White since last Saturdays game against Utah Tech. Ashlee Strawbridge tied the game at 49 with 42 seconds remaining, but a free throw and a last second triple by the Lancers gave them the 53-49 lead heading into the final frame.
Ashlee Strawbridge poked the ball loose and Moe Shida came up with the steal, neutralizing the Lancers first possession of the fourth. Back-to-back jumpers by Taylor Donaldson and Strawbridge made it a one possession game, but CBU answered back with scores to make it 61-53 with 6:12 remaining. With time winding down the defenses locked up again, making points hard to come by. Unless your name is Tayelin Grays. Back-to-back makes from long range put NM State within two and forced the Lancers to use a timeout.
After the timeout, the Aggies fought hard, but timely shooting and tough defense by the Lancers dashed NM State’s comeback chances as California Baptist leaves Las Cruces with a 73-65 win, extending their win streak to four games. NM State falls to 13-14 on the season and 8-7 in WAC play.
- Molly Kaiser eclipsed double digits for the 18th time this season, and the eighth time in the last ten games.
- Moe Shida recorded a career high in rebounds (5), less than 48 hours after setting season-highs in points (7), minutes (27) and steals (3) against Seattle.
- With her 14 point performance, Taylor Donaldson has score in double figures in each of the last three contests.
- Tayelin Grays matched a season high in rebounds (9) and nearly produced her third double-double performance of the season after scoring 15 for the game.
- Once again, the Aggies were menaces on the defensive side of the ball forcing the Lancers to 15 turnovers – the 24th time this season they have forced an opponent to 15 or more turnovers. For compression, the Aggies have only played 27 games this season and have just three contests remaining.
- The Aggies had their third best performance from the charity stripe percentage wise shooting 11-16 from the line (68.8%)
- Both teams were crashing the defensive glass with each grabbing 28 boards. However, The Aggies recorded the second most defensive rebounds this season needing just two more to match a season high.
The Aggies have one remaining game at the Pan American Center next Thursday (Feb.23) against UT Arlington before heading to the Lone Star State of Texas for the final two regular season matchups the following week where they will battle Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston.
After their time in Texas is concluded, NM State will head to Las Vegas for the WAC Women’s Basketball Tournament which will take place at the Michelob ULTRA and Orleans Arenas. The Aggies are 21-11 in the tournament all time and will look to advance deep in the tournament after being bounced in the opening round last year. This will also be the final time the Aggies participate in the tournament as they are slated to move over to Conference USA next season, along with the rest of NM State Athletics.