Zia forward Megan Ratliff drives past a Texas A&M-Kingsville defender in the second half of Thursday’s Lone Star Conference South Division game at Greyhound Arena. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University’s women led all the way Thursday night, but it turned into anything except an easy win.
The Zias saw a 23-point, second-half lead shrink to four in the final minute, but went on to close out a 71-62 victory over Texas A&M-Kingsville in a Lone Star Conference South Division matchup at Greyhound Arena.
Senior post Tiana Bryant led four players in double figures with 21 points and added a career-high 17 rebounds for the Zias (9-11, 1-5 South), who pushed the Javelinas (4-16, 0-7) deeper into the division cellar.
Junior guard Heather Brown scored 15 points, while senior guard Missy Kirkland added 14 points, including a key steal and layup down the stretch.
Meantime, 5-3 sophomore guard Erika Cook added 12 points and a career-best nine rebounds as the Zias won for just the third time in their last 13 games.
“Hopefully, this’ll give us a boost to win some more games,” said Cook, a Portales High grad. “We’re totally capable of it. I think this will help us.”
Forward Angela Trotter and Kaipresha Price and reserve guard Linnae Barber scored 12 points for the Javs, while reserve Latasha Davis added 10.
“Our intensity was better,” ENMU women’s coach Dan Buzard said. “We played a lot better defense tonight. We just had that lull in the second half.
“Kingsville never quit. They played hard.”
The Zias extended a 13-point lead to 23 twice (52-29 and 54-31) with just over 12 minutes left before the Javs began finding the range from long distance.
Guard Nahogany Brown’s 3-pointer started a 9-0 run for Kingsville. The Zias extended the lead to 58-40 before the Javs scored nine points in a row, capped by Angela Trotter’s 3-pointer.
After a basket by Heather Brown, Davis hit consecutive 3s to bring Kingsville within 60-55 with five minutes left.
Kirkland then stole a pass near midcourt and sailed in for a layup to give the Zias some breathing room.
“We got that 20-point lead and we kind of let up,” Cook said. “Even though we didn’t keep them down, we were still able to keep the lead.”
Buzard said Cook had one of her better games.
“Erika stepped up and played well tonight,” he said. “She played with more consistency on both ends of the floor.”
The Zias got off to a good start, leading the entire first half after getting a layup from Cook off the opening tip and a steal and layup from Kirkland with just over a minute gone.
Eastern then went on a 12-2 run, fueled by four points from Bryant, for a 23-8 cushion with 7 1/2 minutes left. Kingsville scored the next eight points to cut the margin to seven, but the Zias closed the half on an 11-5 run over the final 2:40 for a 36-23 advantage at halftime.
The Zias shot 44 percent for the half, collecting 10 assists spread among seven players on their 15 baskets. Bryant had 12 points at halftime, including 4-of-4 from the free throw line, while Kirkland added eight.
The Javelinas were just 9-of-34 from the field in the half. Barber’s 10 points led Kingsville and included a pair of 3-pointers.