Behind senior Courtney Clements' (Long Beach, Calif.) career-high tying 29 points, the San Diego State women's basketball team clinched a share of the Mountain West title on Wednesday with a 72-44 conquest of visiting New Mexico at Viejas Arena. With the victory, the Aztecs extended their winning streak to 13 games, improving to 22-5 overall and 13-1 in conference action, while the Lobos drop to 14-12 on the season and 6-7 in the MW.
This is the third regular season championship for head coach Beth Burns since returning for her second stint on Montezuma Mesa in 2005. The Aztecshave also won two MW Tournament championships during that time.
Winning with defense
The SDSU defense was once again in top form, forcing a season-high 29 turnovers, while outscoring UNM 34-12 off those giveaways, including a 15-0 spread in the second half when the Scarlet and Black broke the game open. In addition, the Aztecs notched a season-best 15 steals and maintained a 22-2 advantage in fast-break opportunities.
Individually, Clements matched her collegiate high with 12 field goals on 23 attempts to go with eight rebounds and four steals, while senior Chelsea Hopkins (Las Vegas, Nev.) had a big night as well, posting 17 points, four assists and four thefts of her own. The SDSU cause was also aided by sophomore Erimma Amarikwa (Vacaville, Calif.), who tallied eight points and four rebounds, while fellow classmate Ahjalee Harvey (Mountain View, Calif.) added seven points and three steals.
The Aztecs never trailed in the contest, eventually building a 23-11 advantage by the 7:29 mark of the first half following a layup by sophomore Chairese Culberson (Oakland, Calif.) and an Amarikwa free throw. The Lobos trimmed the deficit to single digits on six occasions, but a Clements layup with 1:17 left provided SDSU a 35-25 cushion at intermission.
Both sides shot the ball fairly well in the period, with the Aztecs connecting on 14-of-30 field-goal attempts (46.7 percent), while UNM was 11-for-23 from the field (47.8 percent). However, SDSU clamped down following the break, limiting the Lobos to an 8-for-25 clip (32.0) in the second half, while converting on 15 of its 30 shots from floor to seize control.
Still, the Lobos remained within striking distance after a basket by Whitney Johnson pulled the visitors to within 37-30 at the 18:47 mark. However, the Aztecs reeled off eight straight points over the next two minutes, featuring two jumpers by Clements sandwiched around layups by Hopkins and senior Gabrielle Clark (Los Angeles, Calif.). Following another Johnson bucket, SDSU turned on the afterburners, fashioning an 18-9 blitz during a span of 9:40, capped by a Hopkins 3-pointer, to forge an insurmountable 63-41 lead with 6:55 to go. The Aztecs allowed just three Lobo points the rest of the way en route to the big 72-44 win.
UNM was led by Deeva Vaughn and Antiesha Brown, who recorded 10 points apiece. However, the Lobos' leading scorer Caroline Durbin was held to just two points in the loss.
Quite a career
With her performance, Clements moved into eighth place on the Aztecs' career scoring list with 1,364 points.
The Aztecs will have an open date on Saturday before returning to action on Wednesday, March 6, when they travel to the Air Force Academy for their final road game of the regular season. Opening tip is slated for 7 p.m. MT/6 p.m. PT. SDSU can win the outright MW regular-season title for the second year in a row with a victory over the Falcons or if Fresno State loses on Saturday.