LUBBOCK — The eight-seed New Mexico Junior College Lady Thunderbird basketball team began its quest for the 2019 NJCAA championship against the ninth seed Jones College in the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock Tuesday, winning 78-67.
"I was really proud of the girls," NMJC head coach Drew Saunders said on his team's performance. "The game got really physical in the second half. I felt like we did a really good job of executing in the first half and part of the third quarter. Then they did the change up and went to the press and the zone and took us awhile to adjust."
The Lady T-Birds started the game with a 5-0 run but the Lady Bobcats shook off the run and built a 10-7 lead off their 3-point shooting. At the end of the first, Jones College held a 17-15 lead over NMJC.
In the second quarter the Lady T-Birds came to life and began to impose their will on the Lady Bobcats and the game. NMJC began to attack the paint looking to get a layup or kicking it out to the corner three. Mayra Caicedo and Amaya Lewis used their speed to get down court after a defensive rebound. The result was layups for Jurnee President, Sydnee Wynn, Eternati Willock, and Thamires Andrade, and the Lady T-Birds lead reached double digits on multiple occasions.
Wynn and Willock began to control the pain on both ends with their height advantage. Both players blocked multiple Lady Bobcats when they tried to get a layup, put back, or a shot in the paint. On the offensive end, the two began to dominate the board and give their team second chances. The two played a high and low post offense that Jones College could not stop. The high-low post offense of Wynn and Willock allowed NMJC to outscore the Lady Bobcats.
"I think me and Eternati high-low game is unstoppable," Wynn said. "You have two 6-3 people, one at the high post and one at the bottom. It's our go-to and we can switch it up. I can pass it in, dive and vice versa."
Defensively, the Lady T-Birds began to close out and force the Lady Bobcats off the 3-point line and toward the weak side help. The result was Jones being forced into either taking a bad or altered shot against the twin towers of Wynn and Willock, getting blocked, or they
committed a turnover trying to get out of the paint. Jones struggled to find the shots it once had in the first quarter. When the Lady Bobcats made a 7-0 run, NMJC did not panic and began to jump into the passing lanes.
"We are a team that transition is our friend," Saunders said on his team's second quarter run. "We got some transition baskets and that really helped us. It loosened up the defense and we were able to get the ball inside."
"I think our team is used to that physicality," sophomore Wynn added. "We are used to it and have to play through it. Coach always tells us mental toughness, and that's something we have to have to be national champions."
The Lady T-Birds went into the half with a 45-31 lead and momentum in their favor.
Out of the locker room, Jones College began to play a full court press and make it difficult for NMJC to bring the ball into the offense. The strategy worked for the Lady Bobcats with the first five minutes of the game forcing NMJC to commit multiple turnovers.
Jones College was able to cut the lead down to 10 with 3:10 left in the quarter. During that run, the Lady Bobcats made the Lady T-Birds become a jump shooting team, which they struggled to score, and kept them out of the paint.
Until Andrade hit a layup with two minutes left in the quarter, NMJC had relied on its perimeter shooting. Then President hit a shot in the paint off a block on Andrade, and then Wynn was able to score off a spin in the paint to give the Lady T-Birds a 60-46 lead going into the fourth quarter.
What hurt the Lady T-Birds going into the fourth was the Jones College three-point shooting and turnovers. Jones College began to find its range and the rotation of New Mexico was slow, allowing the Lady Bobcats to take the shot in rhythm off the catch with an open look at the basket.
In the fourth quarter, that continued with Jones College hitting a three to cut the Lady T-Birds lead to single digits for the first time since the second quarter at 60-51, prompting a timeout.
The Lady T-Birds began to run their half court offense looking to get touches in the inside of the paint, as the next possession the ball went into Wynn who hit a running hook shot to restore the double-digit lead. NMJC began to get into the paint with Caicedo getting into the middle of the paint and hitting her teammates with no-look passes.
The defense of the Lady T-Birds in the second half was not as strong as the second quarter, but it did enough to keep the Lady Bobcats from making a serious run and getting back into the game. The Lady T-Birds controlled the boards, limiting second chance opportunities of their opponent.
With 78-67 win over Jones College, the Lady T-Birds will play on Thursday at 1 p.m. CST and against the top-seeded Wabash Valley.
"We know how that feels in reverse," Saunders said on facing the top-seeded team. "They are a very, very good team. You know we are excited to be playing the next game and it happens to be them (Wabash Valley) hopefully we bring our best shot and it's good enough."
The Lady T-Birds finished with four players in double-digit scoring led by Andrade with 18 points and eight rebounds. Wynn finished with a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards. Willock finished with 14 and seven, and Lewis had 11 points. Caicedo finished with two points and six assists.
NMJC vs. Wabash Valley Thursday, 1 p..m. (CST) Rip Griffin Center, Lubbock