BY NATHANIEL MATA | STAFF WRITER
In two games at the WAC women’s basketball tournament, UTRGV has faced and defeated both of last year’s finalist.
With a 69-58 semifinal victory over California State University Bakersfield, the second-seeded Vaqueros are onto the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday (today) against top-seeded New Mexico State.
Both UTRGV and CSUB went on monster runs in the second half to swing momentum both ways. The Vaqueros made their run at an ideal time, immediately after the Roadrunners exploded for a 13-0 stretch in the third quarter.
Madison Northcutt put home at three-point play and the Vaqueros took over to close out the third on an 11-0 run. Northcutt led all players with 17 points and 12 rebounds, even after an apparent elbow injury at the 5:19 mark of the first quarter.
Rebounding was key for UTRGV, especially in the beginning of the contest. Northcutt led the way, but seven different players grabbed at least one rebound. Junior forward Megan Johnson had seven rebounds and Makela Mosley had five.
First-year UTRGV coach Lane Lord said his team wasn’t fluid on offense early, but weathering the storm was key.
“We really struggled early again, for the second game in a row,” Lord said post game. “Bakersfield’s so athletic, so scrappy and their guards are so quick. Our defense kept us in the game until we started hitting more shots.”
The Roadrunners found their game in the third quarter, with many of their points coming from aggressive defense and turnovers. They forced 19 UTRGV turnovers in the semifinal and scored 18 points off those takeaways.
Their big post presence, Vanessa Austin, and freshman forward, Miracle Saxon, led the CSBU offense through the stretch.
Northcutt, named to the conference All-Defensive team prior to the tournament, was able to limit Austin beyond that run.
“She’s really good and she’s really strong but I just did the best I can to try to wall up and make her shoot over me,” Northcutt said about guarding the 6-foot-3-inch Austin.
The fourth quarter was a clinic from the field by senior Nichele Hyman, who made all 15 of her points in the last frame, including three 3-pointers to punch the team’s ticket to the title game.
UTRGV’s depth was on display throughout the game. Hyman, Johnson (12), Krisynthia Sampson (10) each had double-digit points.
“Honestly, coach always says players make plays and when it comes down to it, we’re hungry, we want to win,” Hyman said.
Saturday’s conference finale against NMSU marks the third time the two teams will meet in the championship match. The Aggies won in 2015 and 2016.
The No. 1 ranked Aggies needed overtime to withstand a strong effort from UMKC in the semifinal game prior UTRGV’s matchup.
“As long as we continue to play defense like we did tonight and we have all season we hopefully will be able to stay in the game and hopefully make some plays at the end,” Lord said.“They have two all-American type players in (Brooke) Salas and (Gia) Pack. When you have two go-to players and your secondary players are making plays they’re hard to beat. But we’re sure are going to try and play as hard as we possibly can and we’re excited for the opportunity to play in the WAC championship.