It's fitting that Coach Zenarae Antoine’s motto for the postseason tournament was survival because that’s what the Texas State women’s basketball team did against UT-Arlington.
“A big part of being able to survive in any competition is the mental piece,” Antoine said. “For me, that’s really where it started. I think the momentum for me right now, with our team, is truly in our favor. We’ve been here before, and we have done this.”
Two blocks from Ericka May, freshman guard, and a pair of free throws with seven seconds on the clock secured the 52-46 win.
“I saw it as a big play because if (Chaun Williams) would’ve made that, it would’ve changed the game situation,” May said. “Blocking that shot really helped us get our momentum to finish off the game and get the win.”
The score would have been 48-46 with 40 seconds remaining in the second half if May had not blocked the shot. Instead, the Bobcats had the ball and Meghan Braeuer, senior guard, hit two free throws to extend the lead to 50-44.
Defense was the overall theme of the game with the teams missing 75 of 109 shots. The teams went four minutes without scoring a point.
“What a defensive effort by both teams,” Antoine said. “Our one Achilles heel for this entire season has been our lack of consistent defensive effort. Tonight we did a great job of being more consistent with that.”
The Bobcats held Rebekah Van Dijk, Mavericks freshman center, to nine points on 17 shot attempts. Van Dijk, the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, is averaging 13.1 points a game this season.
Ayriel Anderson, junior guard, credited Kileah Mays, junior center, and May for the defensive success. Mays anchored the Bobcat defense, getting three blocks and a steal. However, defensive positioning led to Van Dijk’s 23.5 shooting percentage.
“I’m especially proud of the effort by Kileah Mays and Ericka May,” Antoine said. “They got some huge defensive stops with those rebounds and were enough to get the ball up the floor to our guards that can shoot free throws.”
The Bobcats had a help defender from the weak side ready to double-team Van Dijk at all times, though the Mavericks still managed to score 30 of their 46 points in the paint.
“We know that they have No. 44 (Van Dijk), who can really bang it in the inside,” Anderson said. “The defensive presence of Kileah Mays just really helped our guards feel great about not letting them get it into the middle to also help Kileah (Mays). Our defensive pressure has certainly kicked in toward the end of the season.”
The Bobcats move on to the second round, where they will face Arkansas-Little Rock, the regular-season conference champions. Arkansas-Little Rock defeated Texas State by a combined 47 points in two matchups this season.
However, the Bobcats remain confident.
“I think our team understands that, and I think that they understand that we can beat this team,” Antoine said. “We just haven’t had the opportunity. Now the opportunity presents itself. We’ll prepare them, but as long as they bring great effort, I think you will find that it will be a close game.”
Follow Paul Livengood on Twitter @IamLivengood.