LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO – The New Mexico State women’s basketball team stormed back from down 10 in the fourth but dropped a 60-58 contest to UC Riverside on opening night at the Pan American Center.
“You can’t turn the ball over 18 times in close games and be successful,” said head coach Brooke Atkinson. “Our fight was really good. We drew from our defense to get us going offensively. We just have to be able to play better with the lead and get good shots down the stretch.”
The Highlanders (1-0, 0-0 Big West) took an early 6-2 lead before Gia Pack capped an Aggie run with a three and a layup off a steal to give the Aggies (0-1, 0-0 WAC) a 9-6 lead. After the two teams traded baskets, Aaliyah Prince finished off a three-point play for a 16-12 NM State lead with 18 seconds to go in the period. However, UC Riverside hit a three at the horn to trim the lead to 16-15.
Riverside started the second on a quick 6-2 run to lead 21-18 with 7:32 in the quarter. From there, both sides locked in defensively as only eight more points were scored in the quarter with NM State trailing 25-22 at the half.
Coming out of the break, Prince went off, scoring the first eight Aggie points of the quarter for a 34-31 lead. However, UC Riverside ripped off a 14-1 run to take a 45-36 lead at the media timeout with five minutes in the quarter. Gia Pack then bullied her way to the rim before a pair of free throws by the Highlanders gave them a 47-37 lead at the end of the third.
The Aggies began to chip away at Riverside’s lead at the opening of the fourth quarter, drawing within 51-43 with 6:11 to play. Then, freshman Shania Harper sank two free throws, followed by two more and a three from Gia Pack to trim the deficit to one, 51-50. Prince capped the NM State run with a steal and a three-point play on the other end for a 53-51 one lead.
After a Highlander free throw, Prince forced another turnover and finished another layup before Pack drilled a three for a 58-52 Aggie lead with 2:32 to go. However, UC Riverside finished the game on an 8-0 run, including the go-ahead layup with two seconds left for a final of 60-58 Highlanders.
Prince finished with a career-high 24 points on 9-20 shooting from the field. Pack joined her in double figures with 18 points. As a team, the Aggies shot 35.6 percent from the floor while UC Riverside shot 37.9 percent.
NM State now hits the road to take on Denver on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 3:30 p.m. (MT) before returning to the Pan AM to host the Battle of I-10 versus UTEP on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m.