After nearly a month away from Connolly Center, Seattle U returned to its home court and even a familiar conference opponent Thursday.
In the realigned Western Athletic Conference, SU and New Mexico State are two of the three remaining schools from last season. SU quickly settled into the comfortable surroundings to win 61-51 in its WAC home opener.
“We knew their style of play, so it was nice to have a familiar face,” said SU senior forward Ashley Ward, who finished with 16 points. “We kind of knew what they were going to do.”
The Redhawks (7-9, 2-1) swept the Aggies (4-11, 1-1) in three games last season, including once in the WAC tournament.
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NMSU built an early 12-9 lead after a jumper by Tamera William. But SU senior Kacie Sowell (17 points, nine rebounds) helped the Redhawks respond, fighting through a double team for a layin and converting a bounce pass from freshman guard Alex Montgomery during an 18-10 run to close the half. SU entered the break up 27-22.
The Aggies closed within 51-48 late, but Redhawks reserve Makenna Clark hit an awkward three-pointer and collected a steal that led to a layin by Shephard to push the lead to 56-48 with 2:06 on the clock.
“That was a clutch three,” SU coach Joan Bonvicini said. “I felt those last four minutes with that group — and they did the same at the end of the first half — were very focused, and they played with purpose. The only bad thing was we got a foul. But we had every offensive rebound, we got every stop and we only missed one free throw.”
Clark and Ward sealed the win by making a combined 5 of 6 free-throw attempts in the final 55.8 seconds of the game.
SU outscored NMSU 32-24 in the paint and outrebounded NMSU 51-35 in the game.
Thursday’s matchup was SU’s first game at Connolly Center since a win against Montana State on Dec. 14. SU’s five-game road trip started in Southern California before SU opened WAC play against two of the conference’s new additions in Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City.