LAS VEGAS — New Mexico State coach Brooke Atkinson knew last March that this year’s team was going to be special.
The Aggies’ three-year run as Western Athletic Conference women’s tournament champions came to a halt, sending them to the WNIT last season, but Atkinson said she had no doubt they’d be back for another run.
Saturday the Aggies proved her right.
Gia Pack scored seven of her 22 points in the second overtime to lead New Mexico State to a 76-73 double-overtime victory over Texas Rio Grande Valley in the WAC tournament championship and earn a berth in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
“You only get so many opportunities like this and you have to capitalize. And I was going to do everything in my power to put them in spots to be successful,” said Atkinson, whose Aggies defeated Kansas City in overtime in the semifinals one night earlier. “Instead of a single overtime, we gave you a double overtime. These young ladies played a lot of minutes, a lot of tough minutes. And that just continues to show what this team is made of — resiliency, no quit. And that’s exactly what they showed you. They deserve this, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
It was the first time the women’s championship game went into overtime and was just the second double-overtime game in WAC women’s tournament history.
The Aggies make their fifth straight postseason appearance, and return to the NCAA Tournament with their fourth WAC tournament title in five seasons.
“This was all just a business trip for us; we wanted to get the job done and celebrate after,” said Pack, who was named MVP of the tournament. “We stay together no matter what. The game, we we’re down, we just didn’t give up. We all rely on each other and that’s what families do.”
Pack set tournament records for total points (86), field goals made (30) and field goals attempted (57) in the Aggies’ three wins.
After squandering a nine-point lead early, and a two-point lead in the third quarter, the Aggies rallied behind their defensive prowess in the fourth quarter, outscoring Texas Rio Grande Valley 12-7 to force overtime.
With the teams knotted at 63 after the first overtime, Pack took over in the second overtime, seizing momentum for the Aggies by scoring seven of the team’s first nine points and coming up with a key steal midway through the period.
With the game tied at 72, a Brooke Salas putback gave the Aggies a 74-72 lead. Texas Rio Grande Valley had a chance to tie the game, but Nichele Hyman missed the second of two free throws.
Salas hit two free throws with two seconds remaining to seal the win.
“Everyone knows Gia Pack is a player and she is going to make plays,” said Salas, who averaged a double-double during the regular season with 19.5 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. “I think that’s what so scary about our team, is it’s not just one person you have to shut down to shut our team down. Someone else is gonna step up and this tournament Gia did it and I am so proud of her and so thankful that she helped me go out with bang.”
Salas, who moved into a tie for fifth on WAC’s all-time scoring list with 1,912 points, led all scorers with 29 points along with 12 rebounds. Stabresa McDaniel added 10 points for the Aggies.
The Vaqueros had four players score in double figures, led by Quynne Huggins, who had 19 points. Idil Turk, who leads the Vaqueros offense with 10.4 points per game, and Amara Graham each scored 15 for the Aggies. Megan Johnson chipped in with 10 points, while Madison Northcutt had 14 rebounds to go along with four points.
The Aggies, who won their fifth-straight WAC regular season championship, are 67-5 in WAC play since the 2014-15 season. The Aggies also improved to 13-5 in Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena, since the WAC moved its postseason tournament there for the 2010-11 season.
New Mexico State’s 17-game winning streak is tied for the longest in program history.
Also named to the all-tournament team were Salas, Northcutt, Alexxus Gilbert (CSU Bakersfield), Ericka Mattingly (Kansas City).
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