No. 4 seed Seattle University crushed top seed New Mexico State 84-61 in the WAC tournament semifinals that may have signaled the start to a Redhawks reign.
LAS VEGAS – Move over, Aggies.
The No. 4-seeded Seattle University women’s basketball team put an emphatic end to No. 1 New Mexico State’s three-year reign as Western Athletic Conference tournament champion with a crushing 84-61 victory in Friday’s conference semifinals at Orleans Arena.
“This is huge,” said second-year-coach Suzy Barcomb. “This is probably the biggest win since I’ve been here.”
Seattle U (17-14) faces No. 2 Cal State Bakersfield (18-12) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Orleans Arena for the WAC tournament championship. The Roadrunners secured their first trip to the tournament finals with a 61-55 win over No. 3 Grand Canyon in the semis.
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The Redhawks are making their fourth trip (2013, ’14, and ’17) to the WAC tournament title game and seeking their first championship, which would send them to their first NCAA women’s tournament in school history.
“I think it would be a good way to send the seniors off,” said senior forward Alexis Montgomery, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “It’s just exciting to know we have an opportunity to win the conference tournament.”
Last year, New Mexico State clobbered Seattle U 63-48 to win the WAC tournament championship.
The teams split their regular-season matchups this season – both winning at home – which gave the Redhawks confidence heading into the rubber match.
“When we beat them on our home court (a 69-59 victory on Jan. 18) it was kind of like, ‘OK, we can do it’ and we exhaled,” Barcomb said. “We didn’t play well at all when we played them a month later at their place.
“But we had a belief we could get it done today because we did it before. It was just a matter of executing the game plan, and we did a fabulous job at that.”
The Redhawks delivered a surprising early knockout against an NMSU team that began the week with a 15-9 all-time tournament record – more than twice as many wins as SU (7-5).
History didn’t matter Friday. Seattle U came out smoking offensively and outscored NMSU 24-11 and 25-11 in the first two periods.
The Redhawks led 49-22 after a superlative first half in which they shot 67.7 percent from the field (21 of 31) and held the Aggies to 34.5 percent shooting.
The first-half offensive onslaught tied a season high for points for SU.
“That’s how you’re supposed to run the Princeton (offense) and we ran it really well,” Barcomb said. “Just exploiting the mismatches. They threw zone at us a couple of times, but it’s hard when you’re shooting 83 percent (in the second period). That makes it look like you’re running flawless basketball.”
Just about everything the Redhawks threw at the rim went in, including an off-balance shot from Montgomery that banked off the glass near the end of the first period.
Early in the third, sophomore guard Kamira Sanders beat the shot clock with a high-arcing three-pointer to put the Redhawks up 63-33.
“I don’t know the last time we shot 83 percent from the floor in a quarter,” Barcomb. “But it’s contagious with this team. That’s what I’ve noticed. Our energy is incredibly contagious.
“Once somebody started going … then we started to catch fire and one thing leads to another. Lex was saying ‘We’re not letting up. We’re not letting up.’ And they just stayed locked in.”
Seattle U received major contributions from nearly every part of the roster.
Sanders sank 7 of 9 shots, including 3 of 3 on three-pointers, for a game-high 19 points. She also had six assists and five rebounds.
Freshman center Kallin Spiller added 18 points and 12 rebounds, while senior forward Jacinta Beckley chipped in 11 points, including two three-pointers.
“I give credit to them, they are a very good team,” said Aggies junior guard Brooke Salas, the WAC’s regular-season MVP who finished with 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting. “They made some big shots, but we needed to do a better job of dictating what kind of shots they got.”
Said first-year Aggies coach Brooke Atkinson: “New Mexico State has won this tournament three straight years, and Seattle U was waiting the entire year for this game.”
NMSU (18-12) is the first No. 1 seed not to advance to the title game since 1998.
“Everybody now recognizes what we’re capable of,” Barcomb said. “Bakersfield is totally different than New Mexico State in how they defend, how athletic they are and what they choose to do with (Montgomery).
“The confidence we might have is not necessarily from this game, but in the fact that we already played Bakersfield four games ago when we needed a win on our home floor and came away with a big win.”