No. 6 LUBBOCK CHRISTIAN 59, No. 22 WEST TEXAS A&M 46
They are the defending national champions for a reason. On Saturday afternoon at the Comerica Center, Lubbock Christian put on a display of depth, precision and defense as it defeated WT in the Lone Star Conference semifinals.
“We knew it was going to be a possession by possession game,” LCU head coach Steve Gomez said. “Us making 10 threes was probably the difference because they defend so well inside. You’re not going to score easy against them.”
The Lady Chaps (27-3) advance to the LSC championship game on Sunday afternoon where they will play either No. 10 Texas A&M-Commerce or Eastern New Mexico at 1 p.m.
With the Lone Star Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Maddi Chitsey, playing only nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, the Lady Chaps built an eight-point halftime lead thanks to a balanced attack.
“Earlier in the year when we struggled, we realized that we’re not just going to walk out on the court and be handed to us,” guard Caitlyn Cunyus said. “We talked the rest of the year about being the aggressor.”
Allie Schulte led LCU with 16 points while Caitlyn Cunyus added 12 points, five assists and three huge 3-point shots in the first half for the Lady Chaps.
“We knew that we were going to have to penetrate a lot more,” Schulte said. “They have a lot of big posts, so our inside-out game was more important even if our posts weren’t able to score as much. They were able to find us on the outside.”
LCU also held the WT attack to 16-of-49 from the field and limited the inside attack of the Lady Buffs.
“Anytime you struggle, you have to embrace adversity,” Gomez said. “We went on the road and lost a couple of games. There was a stretch there in January where we weren’t just embracing the moment and locking down defensively.”
Sophomore Delaney Nix led the Lady Buffs with 14 points while Abby Spurgin added 12 points for WT.
WT (27-6) are exiting the LSC tournament without a title for the first time in three years but are still assured an at-large bid in the South Central Regional tournament set to begin next weekend.
“We didn’t start off well. We had some wide open looks right off the bat and didn’t knock them down,” WT head coach Kristen Mattio said. “Lubbock Christian is a team that isn’t going to score a ton of points on you but they’re going to do just enough, and they always do.”
No. 10 TEXAS A&M-COMMERCE 68, EASTERN NEW MEXICO 59
Defensive pressure can be the great equalizer. The top seed Lions and the Greyhounds are both physical teams, but it was the Lions defense that was the difference in the LSC semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
“We knew it was going to be a battle and every time we play Eastern New Mexico it’s a battle,” Lions head coach Jason Burton said. “That’s an NCAA tournament team right there. We also shot ourselves in the foot – you can’t go into a conference tournament game, miss 17 free throws and expect to win.”
TAMUC (28-2) advances to the LSC tournament finals on Sunday at 1 p.m. and they will meet No. 6 Lubbock Christian with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II South Central Regional and also the likely top seed and host next weekend.
The Lions pressure kept ENMU from being able to establish any offensive rhythm in the first half as TAMUC held the Greyhounds to a paltry 26.3 percent Effective Field Goal (EFG) percentage to take a 15-point lead into the break.
“We built ourselves enough of a cushion early on and I thought our defense was outstanding,” Burton said. “Our team bought into the game plan and they bought into it. That was the best post defense we’ve played. We changed up a couple things defensively as far as guarding the post.”
The second half produced more of the same intense defensive effort as the Lions only allowed a 33.7 percent EFG in the second half and 30.5 percent EFG for the game.
“We held them to 20 points in the first half and our focus was really there,” Burton said. “There were some times in the second half we were a little discouraged, but we were feeding off of our defense and our bench energy.”
TAMUC was led by Chania Wright who scored 12 points while Agang Tac added 11 points as Maddison Glass and Alexis Bryant each totaled 10 points. Juliana Louis had 12 rebounds for the Lions.
“My main focus is to do whatever it takes to win a game whether I get rebounds, get stops, steals, blocks or just score,” Tac said.
ENMU was led by sophomore Zamorye Cox who scored 20 points and dished out five assists while Natalie Stice had 13 points and Natalie DeLonge added 12 points. Alivia Lewis led the Greyhounds with 12 rebounds while Jazmine Williams added 11 boards.
“You have to give them credit,” ENMU head coach Josh Prock said. “They do a good job of pressuring you and rushing you into stuff. In the first half we rushed a little bit but in the second half we settled down and started taking better shots.”
ENMU (22-9) likely reserved a spot in the South Central Regional with a quarterfinal win over Tarleton on Thursday but will have to await the selection show on Sunday night to know for sure if they are in the D-II national tournament.
“We’ve played four games in eight days,” Prock said. “I told the girls about the journey they’ve been on. We’re down 19 going into the fourth quarter but the fight and resilience that these kids have – they just never quit and I’m proud of them for that.”