LAS VEGAS – (March 9) Seattle University women’s basketball put together a dominant first half on its way to an 84-61 win over three-time defending champion New Mexico State in a Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championship semifinal Friday afternoon at The Orleans Arena.
“We were really locked in today,” said Coach Suzy Barcomb. “That was by far the best half we’ve played this year. Everyone who stepped on the floor was locked in and looking to score. We played an incredible first half and finished out with a fantastic win.”
The Redhawks (17-14) had a first half for the ages, shooting 67.7 percent from the field on their way to a 49-22 halftime lead. SU made 6-8 three-pointers as eight different players scored. It matched a season high with 49 points in a half. In the second period, Seattle U connected on 10-12 field goals, including 4-5 from downtown.
The second half became a formality, as the Redhawks nearly played NMSU (18-12) to a draw, keeping a comfortable cushion as the clock ran down. With the win, Seattle U returns to the WAC Championship Game for the fourth time in program history. It will face second-seeded CSU Bakersfield on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Runners beat Grand Canyon, 61-55, to advance on the other half of the bracket. SU and CSUB split two regular-season meetings in 2018.
Kamira Sanders started what became a terrific game with a driving layup to open scoring. NM State made a foul shot, but McKenzi Williams found space and scored in the lane. A minute later, Alexis Montgomery hit a pull-up jumper and then Kallin Spiller posted up and scored, making it 8-1 with 6:27 to go in the frame. The Aggies scored the next two hoops, but Sanders sank a jumper and then Montgomery set up a Spiller bucket. On a fast break, Sanders dished to Jacinta Beckley for a lay-in and a nine-point margin.
The onslaught continued, as Montgomery drained a jumper and then banked in a wing three. Joana Alves scored for a 21-1 advantage with 46 seconds left in the period. Madeline Dopplick splashed a trey to close first-quarter scoring, as the Redhawks exploded off the bench with a 24-11 lead after 10 minutes.
As stellar as the first period was, SU made its second quarter even better. Dopplick swished another triple to cap an 11-0 burst, and after a Brooke Salas bucket, Dopplick set up a Sanders three for a 30-13 lead. Salas scored again, but Spiller converted inside with 8:00 left in the half. After an Aggie three, Sanders hit Beckley in the left corner for a trey. Less than a minute later, Sanders assisted on another Spiller layup as SU grabbed a 37-18 margin. An Alves hoop made it a 20-point difference, and after a pair of Sanders scores, Ashlyn Lewey nailed a triple at the 1:49 mark. Another defensive stop led to a Williams lay-in for a 9-0 run and a 49-22 halftime lead.
In the third period, Sanders and Beckley each drilled three-pointers as SU looked to prevent an Aggie rally. Up 60-33 midway through the frame, Montgomery inbounded to Sanders with two seconds left on the shot clock. The sophomore stepped into a 30-foot try, draining the attempt for a 30-point lead at the 4:18 mark. Spiller scored again as Seattle U took a 65-39 lead into the fourth.
SU converted 9-10 free throws in the final period, maintaining its margin and returning to the WAC Championship Game for the second straight season.
Seattle U outrebounded NMSU, 45-16 and held a 17-2 advantage on second-chance points. The rebounding margin is the best by an SU unit since Feb. 22, 2012, when the Redhawks outboarded Chicago State, 55-22. The margin of victory is the largest for SU in the WAC Championship since a 77-53 win over the Aggies in the 2013 event.
Sanders paced a balanced attack with 19 points, six assists, five rebounds, and two steals. Spiller claimed her second straight double-double with 18 points and 12 boards. Montgomery tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds for her 18th double-double of the season. Beckley added 11 points and seven rebounds, while Williams claimed seven points and five boards.
As a team, the Redhawks shot 53.6 percent and made 64.3 percent of their threes, a season high percentage.
NM State had won the last three WAC Championships. Tomorrow will mark the first WAC final without a top seed since 1998.
Fans in Las Vegas can join a pre-game rally on the West Concourse of The Orleans Arena tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. There will be a watch party in the lobby of the O'Brien Center at 1218 E. Cherry St. on SU's campus.