The TWU Pioneers had three players in score in double digits as they opened the 2012 Marriott Champions Circle Pioneer Premiere with a 73-56 victory over Texas A&M-International on Saturday at Kitty Magee Arena.
Junior guard Tabbatha Thurmond, who averaged 7.9 points per game as one of three returning players from last season’s 13-14 squad, led the Pioneers with 14 points and eight rebounds to go along with two steals.
“She almost had a double-double, and she had one in her first game,” TWU head coach Beth Jillson said. “Tab is solid. She is our most seasoned veteran, so she knows the system really well.
She did a great job executing tonight. I feel so great about her being able to post up against anybody; she can create shots for herself. She has a great 3-point shot and a good pull-up jumper. She is very versatile.”
Listed at 5-foot-6, Thurmond has an outside shot but prefers to do business on the block or in the paint, posting up guards on a regular basis. With several moving parts around her, Thurmond credits her team for her confidence to exploit mismatches.
“I feel like my role hasn’t changed that much and my teammates are pushing for me to do more,” Thurmond said. “I saw a lot of weakness in their defense. It was easy for me to post up. They weren’t being strong with me, so I backed them down. Everybody thinks that because I’m 5-6 that I can’t post up. I enjoy being down low instead of out on the perimeter because I’ve played down low my whole life.”
Another returning player from last season, sophomore Toree Mason, added 12 points to help propel the Pioneers’ offense, which shot 53 percent in the second half and 50 percent for the game. Mason also grabbed seven rebounds.
“She stepped up big, and she was the spark for us in the second half,” Jillson said of Mason. “She’s just a fearless competitor. She’s not afraid to put the ball on the floor or shoot in pressure situations. She’s really good.”
The Pioneers (2-0) shot out to a 9-2 lead, which they extended to 25-13 with back-to-back buckets by sophomore forward Ria Pateraki, who scored 11 points to go along with seven rebounds. TWU outrebounded A&M 26-16 in the first half on their way to a 34-25 lead.
The second half started similar to the first as the Pioneers opened by hitting five of their first six shots to take a 46-29 lead. Junior center Mary Kovtun’s bucket spread the lead to 19 points, and the Pioneers never looked back.
“We did a great job in transition, scoring layups,” Jillson said. “I thought we did a good job of getting out, running our lanes, and we want to score in transition first. We did better executing our offense and that starts with defense. We got a lot of stops to get the ball back. We had too many turnovers in the first half, but we really cleaned it up in the second half.”
TWU will play the second game of the tournament at 4 p.m. today against Central Oklahoma, which defeated Angelo State 67-64.
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is email@example.com.