Aggie Women's Hoops Opens Season Up With First Exhibition Tonight

Written by: NMSU Athletic Dept.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The New Mexico State women’s basketball team hosts New Mexico Highlands in its first exhibition game Thursday, Nov. 1, in the Pan American Center. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. (MDT) and live stats are available on the web at www.nmstatesports.com.

NMSU hosts Western New Mexico on Monday, Nov. 5 at the Pan American Center at 7:00 p.m. in its final exhibition tune-up before traveling to Irvine, Calif. for its season-opener against UC Irvine on Nov. 9.

The 2007-08 season marks the 35th season of women’s basketball at New Mexico State and the Aggies were picked to finish in fifth place in the conference in the preseason coaches poll. The media penciled NMSU in the fourth spot in the WAC.

Head coach Darin Spence enters his fifth year with the Aggies where he led NMSU to a 13-18 record and berth in the title game of the WAC Championships a year ago.

The Aggies return four starters from last season and nine lettermen in addition to the seven newcomers that are being thrown into this seasons mix, which is the deepest team Spence has had to work with in his tenure at NMSU.

The Match Up

The Aggies and the Cowgirls have met just four times in the regular season series history and the last game that was played between the two schools came back on Dec. 17, 1991, when NMSU defeated Highlands, 120-71. NMSU has won all four games against NMHU by an average of 41 points and all four games were played in Las Cruces.

Last season, NMSU played its first preseason exhibition game against Highlands, defeating the Cowgirls 91-37 at Las Cruces High School. Forward Sherell Neal scored 13 points and guard Hannah Spanich added 10 of her own, but it was the Aggies defense that led to the lopsided victory. The Aggies forced Highlands to turn the ball over 33 times and they out-rebounded the Cowgirls, 49-31.

Scouting the Cowgirls

New Mexico Highlands had a 1-25 record last season in Division II’s Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. It’s lone victory on the year came over Chadron State on Dec. 7, 2006, as the Cowgirls came out on top 71-64. NMHU scored 54.7 points a game under head coach Thomas Roberts and its opponents put up 81.7 points a game.

Senior guard Delischa Utsey returns for the Cowgirls after leading the team in scoring a year ago at 14.1 points per game and she added 4.7 rebounds per contest. NMHU has added size and depth to this years team after being out-rebounded by over 13 boards a game last year.

Neal Looks for Repeated Success In Senior Season

Senior forward Sherell Neal is looking to build on her successful 2006-07 season this year. Neal became the schools first All-WAC selection after her junior year in which she finished second in the conference in scoring (15.7 ppg) and first in rebounding (10.8). She also finished 12th in the nation in rebounding and added 20 double-doubles on the year. There were only two games in which Neal did not score in double figures as a junior.

Neal was named to the 2007-08 preseason All-WAC first team and the Aggies are banking on her to have another great season in her final year in the Crimson and White. She enters the season just 15 points shy of becoming the school’s 16th 1,000 point scorer and she currently ranks fourth in blocked shots and eighth in rebounding on the Aggie career record list. The Phoenix, Ariz. native gets it done in the classroom as well, as she has been named to the academic all-conference teams in each of the last two seasons.

Crimson and White Recap

On Friday, Oct. 26 the NMSU basketball teams held their annual Crimson and White scrimmages at the Pan American Center. The women’s team played a 22-minute running clock scrimmage where the White team edged the Crimson squad, 19-18, after junior guard Tyshae Walton hit an 18-foot jumper to break a 17-17 tie. Walton had a team-high five points while sophomore guard Hannah Spanich and junior center Danielle Stevens both contributed four points for the White crew.

Senior guard Irma Kmitaite-Smith and junior guard/forward Brittany Henderson both recorded five points for the Crimson team.

Denning Returns To The Aggies Front Court

Senior forward Carla Denning has been waiting a long time to get back on the court after she suffered a season-ending injury midway through the 2006-07 season. Head coach Darin Spence really likes the energy and leadership that Denning brings to the team and in the Aggies Crimson and White Scrimmage last Friday, Denning let her play do the action. In the brief scrimmage (22-minute running clock), Denning pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and scored four points. In 16 games last season, Denning averaged two points and four rebounds per game.

Canadian Exhibition Tour

New Mexico State got a head start on the season, as NMSU embarked on a foreign exhibition tour in Vancouver, British Columbia at the start of the school year. The Aggies were allotted 10 days of practice prior to their three games they played against some of Canada’s top collegiate teams, Sept. 1-2.

The Aggies went 2-1 in their exhibition tour, defeating the University College of Fraser Valley, who took the bronze medal in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association Championships last season, and Trinity Western University. NMSU’s only loss came to Simon Fraser who is Canada’s reining national champion.

Spence really believes that the early start on the year helps his team tremendously and feels that it gave his players the motivation to come out and get over the hump and win the schools first ever WAC Championship and fifth conference title in program history.

"Playing up in Canada has already given us a chance to see how our lineups will fit together with our depth and more importantly it showed our team that we have a really good opportunity to have a great season," Spence said.

Quick Team Notes

The Aggies return four starters from last years team (Monique Bribiescas, Anikia Jawara, Sherell Neal and Tyshae Walton) and have five seniors on the squad (Bribiescas, Carla Denning, Jawara, Irma Kmitaite-Smith and Neal)... NMSU’s 32.2 three-point field goal percentage in 2006-07 was the best in the WAC... New Mexico State held opponents to the second lowest field goal percentage (37.4 percent) in the conference a year ago... The Aggies have advanced to the finals of the WAC Tournament in each of the past two seasons as a No. 7 seed, becoming the first seventh-seed to do so in the history of the conference tournament...

Aggies Add Seven Newcomers To 2007-08 Squad

Junior college transfers, Brittany and Tiffany Henderson (Pierce Junior College) and Danielle Stevens (Independence Junior College) along with true-freshman Danisha Corbett, Brittany Palmer, Erica Sanchez and Madison Spence are all new to the Aggies squad this year. Spence (No. 23 overall prospect) and Corbett (No. 67 prospect) were two of the highest rated recruits in the country according to Michael T. White All-Star Girls Report and the two could have big impacts for the Aggies this season. The Henderson sisters along with Stevens will give the Aggies a boost inside and Palmer will help NMSU’s backcourt. Sanchez, who was high school teammates with Palmer, has a big upside to her because of her size that allows her to play both out on the wing and inside in the paint.

Successful Offseason

With the exception of four players on the roster, every other Aggie was in Las Cruces attending school and working out over the summer in preparation for the upcoming season. The Lady Aggies had summer weight room workouts, played an abundance of pick-up games and started bonding as a team. This will pay off for NMSU down the road as the Aggies are looking to win the Western Athletic Conference Championship after falling in the title game of the conference tournament in the last two seasons.