On a day when she became Utah Valley women's basketball's all-time leader in starts, UVU senior guard Mariah Seals added yet another outstanding performance among her 111 career starts with 20 points and five assists versus New Mexico State.
The Aggies (10-9, 4-1 WAC) countered Seals' performance, however, receiving two individual 20-point outings of their own and hot 3-point shooting to down the Wolverines (9-11, 3-2 WAC), 82-72, on Saturday afternoon inside Lockhart Arena on her record appearance.
"We got buried there in the first quarter," said Utah Valley head coach Cathy Nixon. "NMSU shot the ball really well. Still, I'm proud of the way our girls continued to battle. It's difficult when you bury yourself so deep, but the next three quarters we ended up outscoring them for that stretch of the game. For us it's a learning process of contending with teams of that caliber when those teams are playing well."
In spite of the defeat to current three-time defending champion NMSU, the Wolverines finished with three other double-digit scorers outside of their floor general. Behind Seals in scoring for UVU, junior guard Britta Spencer put up 12 points, while senior guard Taylor Christensen and sophomore forward Jordan Holland rounded out that quartet with 10 points apiece.
New Mexico State overcame Utah Valley's stellar starting unit with sharp shooting in the opening period, as the Aggies opened the game hitting all seven of their three-point attempts to jump to an early, 30-10, lead after the first 10 minutes. The Aggies then hit their next two in the beginning minutes of the second quarter for a 9-of-9 mark from downtown to start the game.
The Wolverines then began to claw their way back with 7:01 remaining in the third quarter, using a 13-2 run to cut the Aggie lead to its lowest since the opening minutes at 11. Spencer knocked down two free throws to open the surge before Seals erupted with seven of the next nine points for UVU to cut the deficit to 55-42.
Seals capped her personal outpouring with a layup set up by a Christensen steal that brought the score to 55-39. Following up her own steal on the other end, sophomore guard Alexis Cortez then fed Seals in the left corner for her second and final 3-pointer of the day to pull the Wolverines to within 13 with 4:56 left in the third period.
Holland then joined in on the action with a layup to cut the score to 55-44 after grabbing a rebound. In response to an and-one converted by NMSU guard Jeneva Toilolo, Cortez contributed a 3-pointer from the right wing assisted by a driving Christensen to again bring UVU within 11 of the Aggies, 58-47.
In addition to its third-quarter onslaught, Utah Valley closed the game on a 15-4 run sparked by Christensen's 3-pointer from the left wing with 3:32 left on the game clock. With eight seconds on the game clock, Seal capped the run with a layup in the closing second to bring the deficit to its lowest of the second half, 82-72, before it was too late to overcome the 20-point disadvantage in the first quarter.
"It ended up going as we hoped offensively. But things got away from us there in the first quarter and their three scorers stepped up. We had a hard time of containing them in the first, but we'll use this one to get better," Nixon said.
Sophomore forward Gia Pack led the way for the Aggies with a game-high 25 points, and senior guard Brooke Salas followed right behind her NMSU teammate with 22 points. Senior forward Jasmine Cooper also chimed in 11 points to close NMSU's double-digit scoring list.
Cortez nearly joined the UVU quartet of double-digit scorers, as she provided a spark off the bench with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. Freshman Nehaa Sohail also gave the Wolverines' sideline a lift in her best effort to date, finishing the game with season highs of six points and five rebounds in 18 minutes of action.
During her best offensive performance in the green and white, Sohaiil led a 7-3 Wolverine charge in the second quarter. Sohail's breakout day began as she made a pair of free throws and also converted a baseline layup off an in-bound pass from Seals to chip into the NMSU lead at 48-28.
In spite of receiving 17 points off the bench, UVU was outshot by NMSU's 58 percent compared to its own 48.9 percent clip on the day. That mark by the Aggies included a 12-of-20 shooting day from beyond the arc to sink a Wolverine team that made six threes in the contest.
Despite the loss, Utah Valley held the upper hand in steals with 11 compared to NMSU's nine. Cortez finished with a team-best three steals, while Christensen, sophomore guard Gabrielle Leos and Holland racked up two apiece as the Wolverines' leaders takeaways on the afternoon.
UVU will continue its WAC gauntlet with a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, for another league matchup at Grand Canyon on Saturday, Jan. 27. Tipoff from Grand Canyon University Arena is set for 2 p.m. MT.