Aztecs fall to Lobos, leave Las Vegas empty-handed

Despite a see-saw season where the silence of defeat resonated louder than the celebration of victory, the San Diego State women’s basketball team entered the Mountain West Tournament hungry for a championship.

Head coach Stacie Terry and her Aztec squad were hanging their hats on the age-old expression, “defense wins championships.”

And in both of the matches against the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of New Mexico, respectively, SDSU flashed championship-caliber defense.

However, in the end it was a combination of defensive and offensive shortcomings that sent the Aztecs, like so many before them, leaving Las Vegas empty-handed.

With time winding down and the defense crashing all around her, senior forward Erimma Amarikwa’s putback failed to find the bottom of the net, and the No. 2 seed Lobos defeated the No. 7 Aztecs 57-56 Tuesday night.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end against a very good team,” coach Terry said. “That’s all that we were playing for. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We just missed that last shot.”

SDSU had the ball for the final 42 seconds after New Mexico junior guard Bryce Owens hit two free throws to put her team up 57-56. After freshman guard McKynzie Fort missed her jumper the ball made its way out of bounds off a New Mexico player.

Seconds after the inbound, sophomore guard Ariell Bostick was fouled with 14 seconds left, giving the Aztecs one last attempt.

Out of the Lobos’ final timeout, redshirt-junior guard Ahjalee Harvey drove baseline and found Bostick in the corner for a 3, but her shot fell right into the hands of Amarikwa who was not able convert.

Defensively, the Aztecs were playing a game of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as they titter-tottered between playing top-flight defense and being outmatched on the offensive glass.

SDSU held New Mexico squad to 22 points in the second half on 25-percent shooting — 38-percent on the night — and rejected seven Lobo shots.

But the Aztecs also allowed the Lobos to corral 15 offensive rebounds that resulted in 12 second-chance points.

“I think the key was really the offensive rebounding,” Terry said. “(The Lobos) did a great job on the glass in the second half and gave themselves second and third opportunities to score, which put a lot of pressure on our defense. We would play pretty good defense for 25 seconds, they get the (offensive) board, then we have to guard again.”

Individually, Harvey had a team-high 16 points on 7-12 shooting and Amarikwa notched her 10th career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

This loss followed SDSU’s opening-round rout of No. 10 seed Nevada, 70-48, behind a staunch defensive effort in the second half.

The Aztecs didn’t focus on the 6-foot-8 senior center of Nevada, Mimi Mungedi, but instead looked to pressure the rest of the Wolf Pack and force one of them to step up and share the offensive burden with Mugendi.

No one else did.

SDSU allowed the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year to notch 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting, but it completely caged the rest of the Wolf Pack. The Aztecs limited the rest of Nevada to 8-of-24 shooting, with no one eclipsing six points, and forced Nevada to only 20 second-half points and 24 turnovers on the game.

Offensively, it was a group effort for the Aztecs that had Fort, Bostick, Harvey and Amarikwa tally double-figure scoring nights, all with 10 points. Terry was proud of her team’s shared offensive wealth.

“We are a blue-collar team,” Terry said. “We don’t have a stand-out star and we do it by committee and I think we take pride in that.”

The Aztecs finish their season with a 12-19 overall record and for the fourth consecutive year reached the second game of the conference tournament.