BY NATHANIEL MATA | STAFF WRITER
EDINBURG — The UTRGV women’s basketball team entered Saturday night’s Western Athletic Conference game against California State Bakersfield riding high.
Even though the Vaqueros didn’t play a perfect game, they were able to top Bakersfield 64-56 to win their fourth consecutive game. UTRGV never trailed and sits in second place in the WAC with a 7-3 record (13-10 overall).
“Our group really handled adversity tonight,” UTRGV coach Lane Lord said. “All year long, teams that are really athletic and can run and jump and trap and press have given us a little bit of trouble but you can really see our team maturing. We’re making winning plays. We would have lost this game, like we did when we were at their place, but we’re really starting to play great basketball.”
The turnover battle went to Bakersfield 17-12 but advantages on the offensive and defensive glass plus at the free-throw line allowed UTRGV to continue its pace. In the first meeting between the teams, UTRGV lost by five, 68-63.
The Vaqueros have won four in a row for the second time under first-year coach Lord. The first win streak of the same length was in November and December in non-conference action.
“I just think they’re all playing together and that’s the big thing,” Lord said. “It doesn’t matter who starts, doesn’t matter who plays all the minutes, it just matters that we win basketball games.”
Both teams were finding offense in the first quarter, but UTRGV was able to take an 18-13 lead into the second quarter.
Junior forward Megan Johnson had eight of her 14 points in the opening frame.
“I think it definitely comes from within the team. Everybody having the confidence to back you up and knowing if I step out there and I take that shot no one’s going to be mad at me or disappointed in me. I think I’ve just been growing and learning to trust myself more cause I know everybody else trusts me.”
Saturday’s win was the second time in three games Johnson has led her team in a victory. Against Chicago State on Feb. 4 she had 19 points.
UTRGV has had seven different players lead the team in scoring in 10 WAC games. Johnson said such a balanced offense makes her team a tough matchup.
“How do you defend that from another team’s perspective?” Johnson asked. “How do you defend if you stop one person and the next person goes off and the next person goes off? I think everybody on this team is capable of being ‘that-scorer’ and it’s nice to have such an all-around well-rounded team.”
Eight different players scored against the Roadrunners and four reached double-digits.
In the second quarter, UTRGV used eight points off the bench to build a 10-point lead. The free-throw long was a reliable source of points for the Vaqueros who made 15 in the first half.
“They were fouling us there at the end of the game too and we made every one of them down the stretch. That’s why we’ve been able to get on the streak, we’ve been making winning plays in the fourth quarter. The free-throw line is so important.”
The visiting Roadrunners made their best surge in the third quarter but were never able to erase UTRGV’s advantage.
“When you get to the tournament, you have to win three games in four days,” Lord said. “We feel like we can run nine or 10 guys out there because they’ve all produced for us.”
“We’re hard to scout and you just never know with us,” Quynne Huggins added.
Huggins put home a put-back down the stretch to push the lead back to nine at 46-37 to thwart CSU-Bakersfield’s momentum. She finished with 10 points and four rebounds.
The Vaqueros two-game road trip will take them to Seattle U., who they beat handily in their first meeting, and Utah Valley who walked-off against UTRGV in dramatic fashion Jan. 17.
Lord said his team is capable of returning to the RGV on the same winning streak.
“We’ve been preparing really well, we’ve executed our game plan fairly well,” Lord said. “I think we can beat anybody but in this league, you can lose to anybody too. You have to be really mentally prepared.”
The women return to the Fieldhouse on Feb. 23 against first-place New Mexico State.