Zias cruise at home

Elizabeth Richards scores on a layup as Western New Mexico’s Sarah Bennetts tries to catch up in the second half of Tuesday’s game at Greyhound Arena. Freedom Newspaper photo: Kevin Wilson

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

PORTALES — Playing her first home game in more than a year, Eastern New Mexico University junior Elizabeth Richards came out like a house afire.

Richards hit 6-of-7 shots from the field in just over five minutes at the start and finished with a career-high 25 points as the Zias routed Western New Mexico 87-52 at Greyhound Arena.

Richards (11 rebounds) and senior Tiana Bryant (21 points, 10 rebounds) posted double-doubles as the Zias (2-0) rolled to their second victory over Western (0-4) in a week.

“I was a little nervous before the game that I wasn’t nervous,” said Richards, who went 11-of-17 from the floor for the game and also had eight steals, four assists and two blocked shots in 28 minutes. “But it turned out to be a good thing. I just went out there and played and did my thing.

“My team did a really good job of getting me the ball in positions to score.”

Richards, who did not play a year ago after starting all but one game in her first two seasons at ENMU, helped the Zias open a 38-26 halftime lead. They built the margin to 20 points with 11 minutes left and cruised in, getting points from 10 of 13 players.

Bryant also posted a career scoring high, finishing 10-of-13 from the field.

She said ENMU’s coaching staff has worked hard to bring out her game.

“I wasn’t as confident in myself last year as I am now,” she said. “The coaches have done a good job; they’ve told me to just relax and play.”

The Zias had some turnover problems, but forced the Mustangs into a whopping 38 floor errors. Western also shot just 37 percent, including 3-of-20 from 3-point range.

Forward Whitney Lewis posted a double-double for WNMU with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while forward Tannesia Manley and guard Natalie Lara each finished with 10 points.

ENMU beat Western 87-61 in its opener last week at Silver City.

“The biggest thing we did was we worked on the things we didn’t do well last week,” said Bryant, citing a better overall defensive effort from the Zias. “We were a little bit nervous (early), but I think in the second half we did a good job.”

Despite the easy win, ENMU coach Dan Buzard said the Zias didn’t play their best game overall.

“We didn’t play as well as we could in the first half; our level of play wasn’t what it should have been,” he said. “I told the team at halftime, ‘We haven’t even played yet.’ I thought the girls stepped up in the second half.

“I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve had two players with double-doubles. We’re improving and we’re still learning how to play with each other, which I think is one reason we have some of the turnovers we do.”

ENMU junior point guard Heather Brown went down with a sprained ankle in the second half. Her status for a weekend tournament at West Texas A&M is uncertain, but Buzard said he hopes she’ll be able to play.

The Zias appear to be a deeper, more athletic team than a year ago, when they went 13-14 overall and 7-7 in the Lone Star Conference South Division.

Richards, of course, has a lot to do with that.

“I think we’ll do great this year,” she said. “I think we’ll move up in the (South). People are underestimating us.”