Zias’ upset bid falls just short against WT

Zias guard Heather Brown puts up a shot attempt against West Texas A&M’s Alicia Saunders in the first half of Monday’s Lone-Star Conference South game at Greyhound Arena. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

PORTALES — Already playing shorthanded much of this season, Eastern New Mexico University’s women learned on Sunday they had lost another player.

The Zias entered Monday’s Lone Star Conference South Division clash with West Texas A&M at Greyhound Arena minus Portales High grad and sophomore guard Erika Cook, who suffered a broken hand late in Saturday’s 65-51 loss to Texas Woman’s. She is the third starter and fourth key player lost for the season to injury.

Still, ENMU came up with a spirited effort against the 19th-ranked Lady Buffs, but in the end fell short in an 82-78 setback.

Knowing his squad’s plight, Zias coach Dan Buzard challenged his players to play up against their rivals.

“I told them if they came out and gave everything they could, we’d give them (today) off,” Buzard said.

He followed through on it, noting that the Zias (9-13, 1-7 South) had played three games in five nights and on Wednesday leave on a trip for division games at Texas A&M-Kingsville on Thursday and Texas Woman’s on Saturday.

WT (18-3, 7-1) used runs of 12-0 and 8-0 to seemingly take control late in the half, but the Zias pared an 11-point deficit with the first five points after halftime and kept scrapping back.

Down by 16 points with nine minutes left after a 10-0 Lady Buffs run, the Zias clawed back to within 76-75 on Tiana Bryant’s 3-pointer with 2:30 left. Junior guard Ashley Sutton had a chance to tie it with a 3 on the next trip, but missed it and the Zias never got closer.

“If we’d played that way Saturday night, it would’ve been no contest,” Buzard said. “I was very pleased with our effort in this game.”

The team’s two main scorers, Bryant and junior guard Heather Brown, came through with 22 and 21 points, respectively, each hitting three 3-pointers. The Zias also got a season-best 12 points from sophomore post Brittany Gillespie and 11 from junior guard Missy Kirkland, while junior guard Megan Ratliff added nine rebounds.

“It’s been a tough season with all the injuries, but we have a lot of girls who can come in and play hard,” said Bryant, who also had eight boards. “Everybody has to step up when somebody’s out.”

WT also had four players in double figures, led by guards Emily Brister with 24 points and Jennifer Brock with 20. Six-foot-5 junior post Alicia Saunders added a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.

“Brister and Brock just really played well,” veteran WT coach Bob Schneider said. “Down the stretch, Jennifer Brock was a great leader for us.

“It was a little hairy there (at the end). They (Zias) just kept coming back strong.”

Bryant admitted the struggles in division play have been a little tough to take.

“It is at times, but you’ve just got to keep fighting,” she said. “I’m just thankful to have teammates who have stepped into roles they weren’t expected to have this year.”