TOM MULHERIN NEWS-SUN
It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done.
In an effort that saw the home team turn the ball over 21 times and make less than half its free throws, the New Mexico Junior College women's basketball team used spurts of high-intensity defense to aide a 73-57 win over visiting Central Arizona Saturday afternoon. The effort featured a variety of steals, blocks and forced bad shots, as the Lady Thunderbirds turned that defense into easy transition points and a third straight win to start their season.
But even though NMJC used that defense early to force the Vaqueras (1-2) to shoot just 1 of 14 (7.1 percent) from the field in a 20-7 first quarter, head coach Drew Sanders instead saw the team's eight turnovers in the frame and wasn't terribly pleased with how the group played coming off a long game the night before.
"We were really flat," he said. "We had a really tough game last night...and the kids just didn't have the intensity we needed tonight. Then we got in foul trouble and had to play different rotations. We couldn't get into any flow or rhythm, and being flat on top of it made it really hard."
Still, he recognized that the group had a lot of fire coming out of the gate, which contributed to a 13-0 start to the contest. But once the second quarter came around, that fire ran out and Central started to chip away at the lead. By continuing to force errors and fouls from the Lady T-Birds, the Vaqueras eventually got the lead down to seven points with 4:20 left in the half.
"That's what happens when they're emotionally ready, but not really mentally ready," Sanders said. "They play on emotion and adreneline, and when that adreneline is gone, they just pancake and that's what they did."
But this is where NMJC started to flash some of that defensive prowess again, as it forced missed shots and Thamires Andrade, Jurnee President and Keonna Watson were able to get easy layups before the break to extend the lead back to 11 (37-26).
The start of the second half saw Central on a mission, with Kendra Butler putting in four points of a 7-0 run out of halftime. But, sure enough, there came back the T-Birds with some impressive defense and a 15-0 run off of transition. The bigs played well in the meantime, with Ni'Asia McIntosh putting work on the glass and in the paint for what contributed to a double-double on the night (10 points, 15 rebounds).
After that point, the game never got close again. President hit a couple of big 3-pointers in a game-high 17-point effort, while Alexes Bryant played really well down low alongside McIntosh with 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks before fouling out.
Even though Sanders wasn't entirely pleased with how the girls played (also committed 20 personal fouls), he found it to be a positive that the team can still win by that much with such a performance.
"We win by 16 and we played really poorly," he said. "Good teams find a way to win, and that's what we did."