LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Jan. 26) – Seattle University women’s basketball pushed the two-time defending conference champion to the limit, but eventually fell, 73-69, at New Mexico State on Thursday night. Kaylee Best scored 21 points to lead the Redhawks in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) game at the Pan American Center.

The contest between the WAC’s two remaining unbeaten lived up to its billing, as SU led early before the Aggies took control in the middle of the game. The Redhawks then held NM State to just five fourth-quarter points, allowing Seattle U to rally and force OT. The hosts had just enough to escape with a victory and drop SU to 4-1 in league play.

"I thought we showed a lot of heart to come back and tie it late," said Coach Suzy Barcomb. "Our growth now needs to come in overtime. I thought defensively, we were rock-solid." 

SU’s zone defense flummoxed the Aggies, as the hosts scored five points in the fourth frame. Down 64-59 with 4:41 left, Wilma Afunugo put back her own missed layup and then Best made two free throws. Both defenses held serve into the final minute, where Kamira Sanders earned a foul and split a pair of free throws, tying the contest at 64 with 35 seconds to play.

The Redhawks (7-13, 4-1 WAC) survived a final Aggie possession, as Best came up with a held ball with 1.2 seconds remaining. Beckley’s attempt to win it was late and the teams headed to an extra session. It marked SU’s second overtime outing of the season, as it dropped a 73-68 decision at Boise State on Nov. 20.

NM State (14-6, 6-0 WAC) scored first in OT, but Best converted two foul shots to even the game at 66 with 3:50 left. The home side made two free throws of their own and then Claire Metoyer nailed a three from the right wing, putting Seattle U ahead, 69-68, at the 1:40 mark. The Aggies hit two free throws to regain the edge and SU could not find a basket on its next trip. New Mexico State split a pair at the foul line with just under a minute to go and then the Redhawks came up empty again on their next two possessions. The hosts made two clinching free throws with eight seconds left.

Best totaled 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in 41 minutes. She sank five three-pointers to extend her WAC-leading total to 49 on the season. Alexis Montgomery posted 16 points and 7 boards, while Afunugo contributed 13 points and 7 rebounds off the bench. Sanders added nine points and four rebounds. The Redhawks shot 16-20 from the foul line and held a 40-36 advantage on the glass.

The first period was played with high energy on both sides. The hosts first, but Montgomery replied with a layup. On SU’s next trip, Montgomery drained a three-pointer to tie the game at 5. NM State scored twice to take a lead, but Best and Afunugo each scored and then Montgomery sank a jumper for an 11-10 edge with 4:33 remaining in the frame.

The Redhawks sustained themselves on free throws as the quarter wore on, with Sanders, Afunugo, and Montgomery each converting a pair at the foul stripe. The hosts made a three, but a Sanders layup put SU ahead, 19-18, and then Montgomery beat the buzzer from just outside the lane, lifting Seattle U to a 21-18 advantage after 10 minutes.

The Aggies controlled the early portion of the second period, but the Redhawks had an answer as the match moved closer to halftime. After NM State scored the 12 points of the frame, Best began the Redhawk rally. Montgomery set her up on the left wing, where Best drilled a triple with 5:55 showing on the clock. The home side scored seven more points, but Montgomery hit a three-pointer. At the 2:57 mark, Best found Ashlyn Lewey for a trey to trim the deficit. Best followed with another long-range make on SU’s next possession. Her hot shooting continued, as the senior tallied her third trey of the quarter with 1:01 left in the half, pulling the Redhawks with four points. The Aggies scored to close the half, though, and entered the break with a 43-36 margin. All five of Seattle U’s baskets in the second period came from beyond the arc.

Coming out of halftime, the teams competed back and forth, with neither side able to move the margin in the third. Sanders scored, but the Aggies came back with two hoops. Best sank another trey and Montgomery made a jump shot, getting SU within 47-43 at the 6:05 mark. The home team scored five straight, but Best banked in a three from the left wing.

A pair of Sanders foul shots got the Redhawks to a four-point deficit. Afunugo worked to keep Seattle U close as the quarter came to its conclusion. The senior made a layup and then poured in three free throws. Her putback with five seconds to play made it 59-55 with a period left.

Defense led the way in the final stanza, as the Redhawks held NM State to three points in the first 5:19 of the period. A Lewey bucket and a long Metoyer two got SU within 62-59 midway through the quarter, setting up the late-game drama.

The Redhawks continue their road trip, playing at UTRGV on Saturday, Jan. 28. The WAC contest is slated for a 7 p.m. (CST)/5 p.m. (PST) tip.