EDINBURG — The UTRGV women’s basketball team grinded its way to a three-point halftime lead against Chicago State on Saturday afternoon at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.
Coming out of the locker room, there was one major change for UTRGV — redshirt sophomore and shooting guard Ashlei Lopez was inserted into the first unit.
Lopez, a Rockford, Ill. native, immediately responded with two 3-pointers as part of a personal 8-point flurry, which launched UTRGV’s 30-point third quarter, the highest-scoring quarter by the Vaqueros this season, en route to a 77-68 victory.
“Ashlei was huge — We started her in the second half just to get some energy and she brought it. She was a difference maker for us,” UTRGV head coach Lane Lord said. “We just needed a little more firepower offensively and she brought it, so we’re real proud of her.”
Lopez’s 12 points, and a career-high 25 from junior point guard Amara Graham, carried the Vaqueros in their win over the Cougars to improve to 5-5 in the Western Athletic Conference and 10-13 overall.
“Coming into the second half, we knew we needed to come out with some energy, so Coach pulled me to the side and said, ‘Hey, this is your job and I need you to do this,’ so that’s what I tried to do,” Lopez said.
Graham’s career day came on just four made field goals, but the Chicago, Ill, native was nearly perfect from the free-throw line, finishing 15-for-16, including some pivotal makes down the stretch as the Cougars attempted to mount a comeback.
“I’m just trying to zone out, everything, all the noise in the stands, the sideline and just put it in the basket. It fell my way today, it was just a good day,” Graham said.
“It would feel really bad if I came out and have 25 points with a loss. I don’t go out looking for points, I go out looking to win. So if 25 points is going to make us win, then I’ll try to do that, but to me, the biggest thing overall is the win.”
The performance from the free-throw line was huge for UTRGV as three of the Vaqueros’ losses in WAC competition against Grand Canyon, New Mexico State and Utah Valley were aided by misses from the foul line.
“It’s free throws and our point guards made their free throws tonight. Making clutch free throws is a stepping stone for us because we’ve lost three games that we should have won that we just missed free throws in crunch time, so this is good for us,” Lord said.
It was Lopez’s second consecutive game scoring in double figures as she followed up her 12 points against Missouri-Kansas City with another dozen against the Cougars.
“This is going to help us go on the road with some positive energy,” Lopez said.
The Vaqueros will travel to Utah Valley and Seattle on Thursday and Friday before returning back to the UTRGV Fieldhouse for a grudge match against New Mexico State slated for noon on Feb. 22.