New Mexico State women set for big challenge vs. Stanford

New Mexico State stretched its winning streak to 17 by beating Seattle in the final of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Stanford will make its 30th consecutive appearance in the NCAA women’s tournament when the second-seeded Cardinal face 15th-seeded New Mexico State in a Lexington Regional game Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.

Stanford (28-5) has won four in a row and eight of its last nine. The Cardinal went 15-3 to tie for second in the Pac-12.

New Mexico State (24-6) has won 17 in a row, a program record. The Aggies went 14-0 to win the Western Athletic Conference and captured their third consecutive WAC tournament title.

Stanford beat Oregon State 48-43 in the championship game of the Pac-12 tournament Sunday. Sophomore guard Alanna Smith scored 18 points. Senior guard Karlie Samuelson had 14.

The Cardinal fell behind early and trailed most of the night. Stanford finally took the lead on a layup by Smith with 7:25 remaining.

“We kind of have a little saying: It wasn’t pretty but it was gritty,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We got after it. Our defense, I thought, was outstanding. We stayed in the rebounding game. It was a heavyweight battle. We kind of got the bloody nose first, but that motivated people to keep playing hard and make some plays.”

Stanford captured its 12th Pac-12 tournament title under VanDerveer, who earned her 1,000th career victory earlier this season. The Cardinal also avenged two regular-season losses to Oregon State.

“We’re really excited,” VanDerveer said. “I’m so proud of the women next to me and the rest of the women and staff in the locker room.”

Senior forward Erica McCall, who averages a team-best 14.6 points and 8.7 rebounds, said falling behind was nothing new for the Cardinal.

“That’s what we’re used to,” McCall said. “We come back and we come back strong. I’m super proud of how my team performed. I think being down helps us push through. We’ve been through those situations a lot. I think we just really had to continue to talk to each other and encourage each other.”

New Mexico State beat Seattle University 63-48 in the championship game of the WAC tournament. Tamera William had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Moriah Mack, the WAC Player of the Year and WAC tournament MVP, had 18 points and eight rebounds. She averages a team-best 13.2 points.

New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh knows VanDerveer well from his days as head coach at USC, one of Stanford’s rivals in the Pac-12.

“Tara VanDerveer is a Hall of Fame coach,” Trakh told the Las Cruces Sun-News. “She’s big time. She’s awesome. She does such a good job with that program. They will be disciplined and they always are. It will be a great experience for our kids.”

William said the Aggies are prepared for the challenge.

“We’ve been there before and we know how hard we have to play,” William told the Sun-News. “We know what we have to do and we know how focused everyone has to be. We’re ready.”