LAS VEGAS - The New Mexico State women's basketball led at halftime by eight but third-seeded Utah State used a big second half to edge the sixth-seeded Aggies 72-67 inside the Orleans Arena Thursday night during the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) basketball tournament.
NM State led USU from the midpoint of the first half through the midpoint of the second half. Utah State took over the lead for at the 7:44 mark of the second half at 50-49. NM State tied the northern Aggies at 55-all after a pair of free throws from senior Madison Spence before USU rallied for a 7-0 run to lead 62-55 with four minutes left.
The Aggies matched Utah State with a 7-0 rally of its own to tie the game at 62-62 with 2:12 remaining after two foul shots from junior Tabytha Wampler but USU scored four straight to maintain the advantage the rest of the contest.
Wampler led five NM State players in double figures with 18 points and seven rebounds. The three senior guards all scored in double digits as Danisha Corbett scored 13 points, Jasmine Lowe posted 12 and Spence finished with 11. Redshirt junior Erica Sanchez was the fifth Aggie in double figures with a career-high 11 points and season-high nine rebounds.
The Aggies shot 35.9 percent in the game while Utah State shot 37.0 percent from the field. NM State finished 4-of-22 from long range while USU made 4-of-15. The crimson Aggies won the battle of the boards 47-38. USU outscored NM State 52-39 in the second half behind 60 percent shooting after halftime and 24 more free throw attempts than the Aggies. NM State made 7-of-8 from the stripe while Utah State sank 28-of-32 foul shot attempts.
NM State finished the year at 14-18 with the loss while Utah State improved to 17-13. USU moves on to the WAC semifinals against No. 2 seed Fresno State on Friday afternoon.
"I love our kids and we gave ourselves a great chance to win tonight," said head coach Darin Spence. "There might have been some fatigue late in the game after playing back-to-back nights, but their advantage at the foul line tonight really hurt our kids."
Utah State scored the first five points of the game before a three-point basket by Lowe at the 14:07 mark. After almost six scoreless minutes the Aggies only found themselves down two, 5-3, as both teams struggled early on offense.
Lowe's trey ignited a 7-0 run for NM State as a bucket by Sanchez put the Aggies up 7-5. A three by USU put the northern Aggies up 8-7 but senior captain Spence gave the Crimson and White a 9-8 lead at the midway point of the half. The Aggies built upon that lead through halftime.
After the teams played even over the next two minutes, NM State rallied again with an 11-4 over the next five minutes. Sanchez scored five straight for the Aggies in the run while Corbett, Lowe and Wampler each added a basket.
NM State led 24-14 for its largest lead of the game with 3:22 left before the break. USU closed to within six at 24-18 with just over a minute left. After a Corbett score, Spence hit a jumper from the left side with one tick on the clock to give NM State a 28-20 lead going into the locker rooms.
NM State shot 33.3 percent in the half and held USU to just 17.2 percent from the field. Utah State made 8-of-10 from the free throw line while NM State did not earn an attempt from the charity stripe in the first 20 minutes. The blue Aggies made 2-of-7 from beyond the arc while NM State made just 2-of-11 from long range. NM State led USU on the boards 26-24. The Aggies forced nine turnovers in the half leading to six points on the offensive end.
Wampler scored eight of the first 12 points of the second half for the Aggies. Spence scored after Wampler's run to extend the Aggie lead to 40-31 with 15:25 left on the clock.
Utah State used an 8-0 run to close to within one point at 40-39 with 13:01 left in the game. But a pair of foul shots from Wampler and a put-back by Sanchez gave NM State a five-point cushion at the 11:37 mark.
USU put together an 8-2 run to take a one-point lead of 47-46 with 9:30 left in the game. The Aggies took back the lead on a three from Lowe at 49-47. Utah State tied the game at 49-49 at the 8:05 mark then took the lead and never relinquished it the over the remaining minutes. The Aggies forced two ties down the stretch at 55-all and 62-all but could not take back the lead.
Guard Devyn Christensen scored 19 to lead Utah State while center Banna Diop posted 15 points for USU. Forward Ashlee Brown recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards on the night for the third-seeded Aggies.
The contest marks the final game in an NM State uniform for 2011 seniors Jasmine Lowe, Danisha Corbett and Madison Spence.
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