BY NATHANIEL MATA | STAFF WRITER
The first season under new head coach Lane Lord will mark the last season many of the UTRGV’s women’s basketball team will lace up their shoes to play competitive hoops.
The Vaqueros have put together a 10-6 conference record (16-13 overall) to earn the second seed.
Tonight’s 8 p.m. game against 7th-seed Seattle University is the team’s first in the 2019 Western Athletic Conference tournament inside of Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
For the group of seven, including two (Nichele Hyman and Idil Turk) who have played four years for UTRGV, this is a chance to prolong their careers and make program history.
Women’s basketball based in Edinburg (as UTPA in 2015 and UTRGV in 2016) has been a game away from the NCAA Division 1 championship on two occasions.
“There’s a lot of parity,” Lord said. “New Mexico State won the league by four games but they had a lot of close games as well. Every night you better show up or you’re going to be on the losing end.”
Four of UTRGV’s six WAC losses were by five points or less, including a three-point loss to NMSU and two-point defeat to Utah Valley.
Lord said his team is embracing the challenge in college basketball’s most exciting stretch.
“We know it’s going to be a battle but that’s what makes it fun though,” Lord said. “It’s March Madness, you just have to survive and get to the next one and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Without a designated star scoring on the team, the Vaqueros have been able to use offense by committee.
Turk leads the team in scoring with 10.7 per game but Madison Northcutt (9.7) and Quynne Huggins (9.5) aren’t far behind. Three more players average over six to create a balanced attack.
“I think we do have the most depth, we’ve had different players throughout the year step up at different times,” Lord said. “We feel like we can play 10 players and we obviously have to take each game at a time but we feel like we have the depth to put a three-game, four-day stretch together.”
A cut above
Lord didn’t just bring his dribble-motion offense when he moved from Division II Pittsburg State to Division 1 UTRGV, he also brought most of the current coaching staff and one of the conference’s best post players.
Madison Northcutt, a graduate transfer, has been instrumental in the team’s defense which is ranked first in the WAC.
In her first season playing D1 basketball, she recorded 11 double-doubles, seven in conference play in 21.9 minutes of action per game.
She was rewarded for her efforts with selections to the All-WAC second team, All-Defensive team and All-New Comer teams.
“I’ve actually known her since she was in seventh grade,” Lord said. “At Pitt State, she gave us 10 (points) and 10 (rebounds) every night for three years. She’s just a hard-nosed player that seems to have a knack for the ball..a Dennis Rodman-type rebounded from back in the day.”
If UTRGV can advance past the quarterfinals they will face the winner of Cal State Bakersfield and Grand Canyon on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
The conference championship game is set for Saturday at 4 p.m. All games are available to stream online with an ESPN + subscription. The final will be broadcast on ESPN 3.