The Redhawks advance with a 77-60 victory and will face top-seeded New Mexico State in Friday’s semifinals in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS — Seattle University found its missing offense — in Las Vegas.
Aaron Menzies was a disruptive force on both ends of the court, and the Redhawks overcame a brief scare from UT Rio Grande Valley’s troublesome full-court press to beat the Vaqueros 77-60 in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday at Orleans Arena.
Seattle U will face top-seeded New Mexico State in the WAC semifinals on Friday at 8:30 p.m. The Aggies (26-5) advanced with a 97-70 rout of No. 8 Chicago State.
Menzies, 7 feet 3 and 285 pounds, had 7 to 9 inches on his primary defenders and finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds — including seven on the offensive end — before fouling out with 2:18 remaining. He also blocked five Vaqueros shots and altered quite a few others.
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“Aaron makes everybody else a better player,” Redhawks coach Jim Hayford said, “because we have a 7-foot-3 guy — and that makes shooters better, makes drivers better. That’s a neat thing to have. He’s a real key for everything we do.”
“(Menzies) had probably like 10 blocks, really,” SU senior Jordan Hill said. “But they didn’t count them as that.”
Seattle U (20-12) ended a three-game losing streak.
The Redhawks averaged just 56 points a game and shot 35.3 percent from the floor — including 30.8 percent from long range — during the skid. They shot 43.6 percent and made eight three-pointers on Thursday.
Seattle U raced to an early 12-point lead and maintained a double-digit advantage for most of the first half.
After Seattle U extended its lead to 51-33 with 14:31 to go, Rio Grande Valley turned up the defensive pressure. The Redhawks suddenly looked out of sorts, committing four fouls and four turnovers during a 16-2 Vaqueros run that cut the Seattle U lead to four.
But Josh Hearlihy (16 points) scored four straight points and Menzies had a block and a putback basket to help Seattle U extend the lead back to 12.
Rio Grande Valley got no closer than 10 after that.
“They like to cause chaos,” Hearlihy said, “so credit to them for that. But we recomposed ourselves.
“We’re a balanced attack on both ends of the floor, and we just got back into that.”
Richaud Gittens had a team-high 17 points for the Redhawks.
Nick Dixon scored 24 points to lead Rio Grande Valley, which shot 29.8 percent from the floor and made just 2 of 15 from three-point range, missing its first eight.
The Vaqueros (15-17) ended their season with losses in five of their last six games.
After Rio Grande Valley trimmed an early double-digit Seattle U lead to six, the Redhawks responded with a 13-2 spurt that made it 39-22 despite going more than three minutes between field goals.
Seattle U, which held the Vaqueros to 8-of-28 shooting in the first half, led 39-25 at the break.
Menzies had nine points and grabbed five of his seven first-half rebounds on the offensive end.
“He really clogs up the paint,” Dixon said. “His length really causes a lot of trouble.”