FARGO-Somewhere in the middle of the second quarter Friday night, North Dakota State went from a very good-looking, composed Division I women's basketball team to a group playing pickup ball at the local gymnasium. There really wasn't much in between.
The dropoff was dramatic and New Mexico State took advantage and cruised to a 79-69 victory at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse.
With 3 minutes, 39 seconds left in the second quarter, the Bison held a 31-22 advantage.
But the Aggies went on a 33-2 run-scoring the first 16 of the second half-and the Bison were cooked, trailing 55-33.
"We had a good talk in the locker room about keeping the energy up," said Bison guard Taylor Thunstedt. "But we came out in the second half and were still not very energized, and that hurt us a lot."
It was the season opener for both teams, with NDSU coming out a much more aggressive team from the one that lost an exhibition game to Division II Minnesota-Crookston last week. New Mexico State is the defending Western Athletic Conference champion that returned all five starters from the NCAA tournament team, including WAC Player of the Year in smooth 6-1 forward Brianna Freeman.
But it was light-scoring guard Tamera William who scored the first six points of the second half and combined with a more aggressive Aggies defense to hold the Bison without a field goal until 5:29 of the 10-minute quarter was remaining.
"Certainly, the third quarter is not what we wanted," said Bison head coach Maren Walseth, "but I was proud of the fight and grit the ladies demonstrated in the fourth quarter."
The fight came after a rather vociferous timeout where Walseth did all the talking. It's not something she wants to do very often, leaving that kind of motivation to the players themselves.
"That's a sign of a mature team," she said.
For a while, it was the Bison that looked like a returning mature NCAA team, taking their 31-22 lead halfway through the second quarter. NDSU was effective with its zone defense and made good decisions on offense with its shot selection. Plus, the Bison did it with three starters already with two fouls.
But the Aggies put the clamps down, outscoring the Bison 17-2 to close the first half. William, a junior who averaged 4.5 points a year ago, finished with a career-high 19. The Aggies had five in double figures.
NDSU got most of its scoring from three players led by Thunstedt, who got the attention of the Aggies early with her 3-point shooting and finished with 21 points. Marena Whittle and Brooke Yaggie added 16 each while center Brianna Jones had 19 rebounds playing all 40 minutes.
"I think we made a pretty big step from Crookston," Thunstedt said. "We have to keep moving forward. We have a game on Sunday. We have to bounce back and leave this game behind us."
That was echoed by Walseth, who liked how her team came out and followed the game plan.
"We're a work in progress and we're going to be a work in progress until the last game we play," she said. "If we're only result-oriented, it's going to be a long, long season. As long as we get better every day, we're going to be OK."
NMSU 17 22 26 14-79
NDSU 19 14 16 20-69
NMSU (1-0): Freeman 6-11 0-0 12, Weber 5-12 0-0 14, Salas 2-10 6-6 10, Davis 2-6 0-0 4, William 7-12 1-1 19, Cooper 0-1 1-2 1, Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Scott 5-15 0-0 12, Toilolo 1-4 1-3 3, Taylor 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 30-79 12-16 79.
NDSU (0-1): Spier 1-11 0-0 2, Whittle 7-14 0-0 16, Jones 2-8 1-2 5, Yaggie 5-8 4-4 16, Thunstedt 8-18 1-2 21, Wiebe 2-4 3-3 7, Childers 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 26-67 9-11 69.
Total fouls: NMSU 15, NDSU 16. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: NMSU 46 (Freeman, Salas 8); NDSU 46 (Jones 19). 3-point goals: NMSU 7-28 (Weber 4-7, Davis 0-2, Salas 0-4, William 1-1, Williams 0-3, Scott 2-10, Davis 0-2); NDSU 8-20 (Whittle 2-3, Yaggie 2-4, Thunstedt 4-11, Childers 0-2). Assists: NMSU 14 (Davis 7); NDSU 14 (Thunstedt 7). Turnovers: NMSU 14 (Williams, Taylor 3); NDSU 23 (Whittle 6). A-587.