Any win is a good win this time of the season when fighting for a high seed in the conference tournament.
Amanda Bartlett led four ThunderWolves in double figures with 18 points as Colorado State University-Pueblo defeated New Mexico Highlands University 73-67 on Tuesday at Massari Arena.
“It was not easy, but the big thing is we got a win and put ourselves into position to get a home game in the tournament,” CSU-Pueblo head coach Kip Drown said.
The win improved the ThunderWolves’ overall record to 16-8 and more importantly to 10-6 in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play. CSU-Pueblo remains in the hunt for a home game in the RMAC postseason tournament. The top four teams in the conference will host a first round game.
Coming off a successful 3-1 road trip, CSU-Pueblo struggled against the last-place Cowgirls.
New Mexico Highlands took a surprising 16-12 lead with 6:58 left in the first-half when guard Jessica Armijo stripped ThunderWolves point guard Rachel Espinoza of the basketball and finished the play with an uncontested lay-up. Following a CSU-Pueblo timeout, the ThunderWolves ripped off a 12-1 run to take a 24-17 lead.
The ThunderWolves went into the locker room with a slim 32-29 advantage.
CSU-Pueblo found its shooting touch early in the second-half, making nine of its first 11 shots to take an 11-point lead, the largest of the game. But the Cowgirls would not back down and went on a 7-0 spurt to pull within four points.
After struggling in the first matchup between the teams with the Cowgirls’ defensive pressure, Espinoza took advantage of the aggressive on-the-ball defense and repeatedly blew by the New Mexico Highlands’ defenders on her way to 17 points.
“The last game we let their pressure get to us,” Espinoza said. “Tonight they weren’t bringing much help and I realized the lane was wide-open so I took advantage of it.”
Oliana Seanoa, the Cowgirls’ leading scorer, caught fire to keep New Mexico Highlands in the game.
Senior Mary Rehfield responded to the challenge and took over down the stretch for CSU-Pueblo, knocking down her second consecutive 3-pointer with 4:04 left in the game to push the ThunderWolves advantage back to eight at 65-57.
“We are really focused on trying to win-out starting here tonight,” Rehfield said. “It wasn’t the prettiest win, but we’ll take it.”
New Mexico Highlands had an opportunity to cut the CSU-Pueblo lead to three, but Seanoa missed a 3-point attempt and on the ensuing possession Michelle Ambuul sank her only 3-point shot of the game to extend the ThunderWolves lead to nine with 1:21 left in the contest.
CSU-Pueblo was able to knock down free throws in the last minute to secure the victory.
The loss dropped New Mexico Highlands to 2-22 overall and 0-16 in RMAC play.
Up next for the ThunderWolves is a home tilt on Thursday at Massari Arena against Western New Mexico.