By Dave Wagner
CMI sports writer
Step one of a tough three-step week has been accomplished.
Eastern New Mexico University’s women, playing the first of three Lone Star Conference games in four days, fell behind early 12-2, but roared back with a 16-3 run to take the lead by halftime and then pulled away to a stunning 90-76 blowout of Texas A&M-Commerce on Wednesday night at Greyhound Arena.
Junior forward Tori Tucker posted her second consecutive double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds while junior guard Amber Williford poured in a career-high 18 points as the Zias (6-8, 4-1 LSC) moved into second place in the conference behind West Texas A&M.
The Zias are back in action at 6 p.m. today, hosting Texas Woman’s (6-8, 2-3) before traveling to Tarleton State on Saturday.
“What we’ve been telling (the players) all week is it’s just like playing in a conference tournament,” ENMU coach Joshua Prock said. “We’ve got a very good Texas Woman’s team coming in, and we’ll have to be ready.”
All 11 Zias scored — including Clovis junior Ashlee Pierson, playing her first game since last February when she went down with a knee injury — in what was easily ENMU’s highest-scoring game of the season.
“These girls really stepped it up,” Prock said. “We had two big runs (including 20-1 in the second half to blow the game open), and I think this team is capable of that.
“Our challenge to them (at halftime) was to continue to stretch the lead.”
The highly athletic Lions (3-12, 2-4 LSC) jumped out to a 12-2 lead, but couldn’t hold it as the Zias did almost everything right in the second half in turning the game into a rout.
Three-pointers by Melrose grads Cara Barnard and Cassie Doherty highlighted the run to end the half, which turned a seven-point deficit into a 38-32 lead.
“We had some major breakdowns on defense at the end of the half,” Commerce coach Nicole Anderson said. “We gave up two big 3-pointers, and then let No. 22 (Williford) drive it right down our throats.”
Williford, from De Soto, Texas, said she was motivated by going up against high school teammate Kourtney Briscoe. The Zias’ Jasmine Johnson was also a member of that high school squad.
“That kind of gave me a little motivation,” said Willford, whose previous high was 12. “I didn’t want to lose to an old teammate.”
The Zias led all of the second half, but didn’t pull away until holding the Lions without a field goal for more than five minutes to turn a four-point lead into an 84-61 cushion with less than five minutes to go.
“(Assistant) coach (Jeff) Caha has us in good shape,” Williford said. “I think we’re the most in-shape team in the conference.”
Of the sudden surge, she said.” We had to figure out how to play together and play with confidence.”
Anderson essentially agreed with that assessment.
“They’re a disciplined team, and well-coached,” she said. “They’ve bought into what coach Prock is teaching.
“We’re very talented, but we’re not performing to the level we need.”
Sophomore guard Aubree Butts took game honors with 21 points for the Lions, while reserve guard Abigail Leaupepe-Tele added 14. But senior forward Breanna Harris, who came in averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds, managed only eight and six and was limited by Anderson to 12 minutes.