Zias close out season with easy victory

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

Already eliminated from playoff competition this season, Eastern New Mexico University’s women sought to build some confidence for next season.

Mission accomplished.

The Zias capitalized on a hot-shooting first half, then rode the inside game of Til-Lois Fifer to hold off Texas A&M-Kingsville 75-61 in Saturday’s season finale at Greyhound Arena.

Cat Clay and Vanessa O’Neal each had 16 points to lead the Zias, while Fifer notched 10 of her 12 points in the final eight minutes for her ninth career double-double.

All three, plus guard Tori Northcutt, who pitched in 11 points and eight assists, are juniors. The squad graduates nobody, and Clay said after the game there were “no excuses” to miss the 2011 Lone Star Conference post-season tournament.

“I think they believe in themselves and in each other enough to believe they can win,” Zias coach Linden Weese said.

ENMU (8-19, 3-9 Lone Star Conference South) trailed 7-6 early, but never looked back after a 14-0 run with O’Neal driving the lane and Clay hitting from the outside. The Zias finished with just 11 turnovers, and went the first eight minutes without one in building their 20-7 lead.

The Zias shot 52 percent in the first half, including a 6-for-8 effort from beyond the arc. The key 3-pointers came in the final 2:22 before halftime, with three to key another 11-0 run.

“I think that kind of took the wind out of their sails,” Weese said. “Until then, they thought they could come back and we’d just lay down. They saw we weren’t going to do that.”

Javelinas coach Scott Hyland couldn’t agree more, noting his team had fought to within eight before the Zias got treys from Hannah Altheide, Alex Ortiz and Clay to push it to a 43-24 advantage.

“In this league, especially in this division,” Hyland said, “you cannot have a two to three-minute breakdown. Every team is good.”

The Zias spent the final 20 minutes holding off a series of Kingsville runs to take their third division win. Kingsville (18-9, 6-6) cut it to 52-45 on a driving layup by Ursula Hill, but Fifer came in off the bench with eight minutes left to spark a 10-3 run.

“Coach Weese was saying, ‘Do what it takes to win, and toughen up,’” Fifer said. “I think that’s what I did.”

The Zias overcame 36 percent second-half shooting with timely baskets and a 12-of-14 effort from the line.

“We shot the ball really well in the first half,” Weese said. “We didn’t shoot as well in the second half, but when we needed to hit some shots to hold them off, we did.”

Felicia Soza was Kingsville’s only double-figure scorer with a game-high 17.