The Redhawks dominated the second half on the way to a 77-53 comeback victory over New Mexico State in the WAC quarterfinals.
LAS VEGAS — For about 12 minutes Wednesday, the Seattle University women’s basketball team appeared to forget that a single Western Athletic Conference tournament loss could have ended any hope of an NCAA tournament bid.
Junior forwards Ashley Ward and Kacie Sowell eventually decided to remind their teammates that every game in March is a must-win.
Ward finished with 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Sowell added 23 points and 11 rebounds to help the top-seeded Redhawks dominate the second half on the way to a 77-53 comeback victory over eighth-seeded New Mexico State in the WAC quarterfinals at Orleans Arena.
Seattle U will face No. 5 Louisiana Tech, which beat Texas-San Antonio 85-58 later Wednesday, in a Friday semifinal.
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Coach Joan Bonvicini insisted her team headed into Wednesday’s game with the right focus.
“We really were not talking about the championship,” said Bonvicini, whose team is competing in its first WAC tournament. “We just talked about winning the day.”
But the day did not start off well for Seattle U. The Aggies (15-16), who were swept by the Redhawks in regular-season play, came out strong, running the floor and jumping to a 5-0 lead.
Seattle U (19-9), which hit just three of its first 16 field-goal attempts, was unable to respond, and the Aggies combined a 9-0 run with a six-minute Redhawks scoring drought to go ahead 16-4 on a reverse layup by Camila Rosen with 11:13 remaining in the first half.
“We came out nervous,” Ward said. “We knew we just had to calm down and play our game.”
Ward did her part by nailing a three-pointer from the left corner with 7:46 left in the half to ignite a 14-2 scoring spurt that gave the Redhawks a 22-21 lead with 3:50 remaining.
It wasn’t enough, as Stefanie Gilbreath helped NMSU storm back with nine consecutive points to give the Aggies a 33-25 lead at halftime.
That momentum did not last long, however. Seattle U scored the first eight points of the second half, tying the score at 33 on an acrobatic layup by senior point guard Daidra Brown at the 17:50 mark.
NMSU guard Sasha Weber helped keep her team afloat with a pair of timely three-pointers midway through the half, but two layups by Sowell and a three-pointer by Ward gave the Redhawks a 48-43 lead with 9:57 left, and Seattle U used a flurry of layups to dominate the remainder of the second half. A 19-3 scoring run provided the decisive blow.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Bonvicini said. “For us, maybe there were some butterflies early. We changed the defense in the second half, but we really just decided to do more pounding inside. We dominated the boards and got into a running game.”
Brown helped the Redhawks with 16 points and had three of Seattle’s 15 steals. Brenda Adhiambo and Sylvia Shephard added six points apiece.