A trend is starting to develop that is guiding TWU’s best stretch of basketball this season, but if the Pioneers are going to accomplish what they want they are going to need to start combining their stellar second-half play with a capable first half.
After trailing by two at halftime and failing to assert their paint dominance while settling for outside shots, the Pioneers delivered the most pivotal run of the game midway through the second half to down Eastern New Mexico 71-58 at Kitty Magee Arena on Thursday and give head coach Beth Jillson the 100th win of her career.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword because I do believe in this team,” Jillson said. “We have a little bit too much of a calm confidence, like ‘OK, we’re going to win this game and take over,’ but at the same time you can’t do that [in this conference]. That’s why we’ve snuck out of some games. I’ve proud of the poise we have, but at the same time, if we’re up on teams, we have to put teams away.”
The victory was the Pioneers’ seventh straight, which ties a school record from the 1975-76 season.
Junior forward Ria Pateraki had a game-high 18 points, her sixth consecutive game in double digits, and nine rebounds to lead the Pioneers to a hefty 51-29 edge in rebounding.
Sitting in second place in the Lone Star Conference, the Pioneers (15-9, 10-4 LSC) amassed a game-high eight-point lead with 7:22 left in the first half, but in less than four minutes, the Zias (6-17, 4-10) rattled off a 12-0 run to take a 28-24 lead on the strength of their outside shooting.
“I thought they really looked to get some mismatches,” Jillson said. “We have some players that are bigger that they thought would struggle to guard out on the perimeter, so they really looked to pick and pop. Defensively, I thought we really stepped it up in the last 20 minutes of the game. That was the key, and we ran the floor. We had some people come off the bench that really sparked us.”
Senior forward Kaitlyn Waller, who was 4-of-4 from the field for 11 points off the bench, capped the Pioneers’ rebuttal to the Zias’ 12-point first-half run with back-to-back layups on the way to a 59-44 lead with 8:20 left.
“The short corner was really open with the defense they were running, which was a 3-2,” Waller said. “So I just capitalized and made sure I was open there. We also stopped dribbling the ball in the middle of the paint because they were collapsing.”
Jillson, who started coaching the Pioneers in 2007, became the winningest coach in TWU history in 2011 and is now 100-91 in her seven years, gave credit to everyone she’s coached and worked with when asked about hitting the 100-win mark.
“It’s special because I started as a head coach here, but it’s more special with the players from the past and present that I got to do it with and the staff that I get to work with,” Jillson said. “I know it’s cliche, but it’s not about the wins. It’s really about the people and the relationships that you form.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.