The New Mexico State women’s basketball team used outstanding defense and timely offense to move into first place in the Western Athletic Conference and win its 17th-consecutive WAC home game, 58-52, over Utah Valley at the Pan American Center on Saturday afternoon.
NM State (12-6, 4-1) struggled to score early against Utah Valley’s (10-8, 4-1) zone defense, trailing 7-5 at the media timeout with 4:39 in the first. However, Kalei Atkinson gave the Aggies a spark off the bench, hitting back-to-back threes and two free throws to give NM State a 13-8 lead with 35 seconds. Then, Brooke Salas got fouled on a three point attempt at the buzzer and made two free throws to give the Aggies a 15-8 lead at the end of one.
Utah Valley scored the first basket of the second quarter to cut the lead to five at 15-10. Then, Aaliyah Prince sank a three and then a steal-and-score to push the Aggie lead to 10 at 20-10 with 5:28 in the half. Although, the Wolverines got hot from three, making three during a 13-2 run to take a 23-22 lead with 20 seconds to play in the first half. New Mexico State had one last to chance to score in the half and Monique Mills drilled a three right before the buzzer and the Aggies took a 25-23 lead into the locker room. Atkinson led the Aggies with eight points, including two three-pointers, while Prince and Salas added five each. NM State made five shots from three in the half while holding Utah Valley to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor.
Coming out of the break, the pace of the game picked up with both sides trading baskets with UVU taking a 32-31 lead with five minutes in the third on a three. However, Brooke Salas finished in the paint before back-to-back threes from Gia Pack and Prince for a 37-36 Aggie lead at the media timeout with 2:47. UVU again took the lead, 39-38 on an and-one before Salas found Adenike Aderinto on the fast break for a 40-39 lead which New Mexico State took into the fourth quarter.
The Aggies then opened the fourth on a 12-2 run to take a 52-41 lead after a three-pointer from Pack with 3:33 to play. The Wolverines, however, refused to give up and made it a four point game at 54-50 with 23.1 seconds remaining. NM State, who has struggled from the line all season, got two makes from the charity stripe freshman Tayelin Grays and two from Gia Pack for the final tally of 58-52.
As a team, New Mexico State made a season-high nine three pointers against the Utah Valley zone defense with three of those coming from Prince. Defensively, NM State held UVU well below its season average of 64.4 points while holding the Wolverines to just 34.5 percent shooting from the field.
Salas led the way for the Aggies with 15 points and 18 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season. Salas also set the NM State career record for blocks and now sits at 127 for her career. Prince scored 11 on a career-high three three-pointers made while Pack stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
New Mexico State is back in action when it hosts UT Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. (MT) in a WAC match up. That game is set to be streamed live on the WAC Digital Network.