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Women’s basketball: NMSU won’t have Pack, but retains experience

New Mexico State’s Aaliyah Prince, center, shown in her team’s 107-53 loss last December at New Mexico, has been named to the preseason All-Western Athletic Conference first team for 2020-21. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS CRUCES – Both the New Mexico State men’s and women’s basketball teams held their WAC preseason press conferences on Tuesday. Here are the top takeaways about the women’s team from those interviews:

The women’s team is ready to make a push. The WAC preseason polls (media, coaches) for women’s basketball released Tuesday ranked New Mexico State fourth in the nine-team league.

The Aggies tied for fourth in the WAC last season with an 8-8 conference record, and coach Brooke Atkinson has higher hopes for her group this time around.

“Every possession, every play and every game has to be with that same exact effort,” Atkinson said. “We can’t afford to have a night where we just don’t show up. We can’t afford to have a play where we just don’t play. That’s kind of been our biggest focus.”

Staying consistent on the court is easier said than done with all the inconsistency going off the court, but Atkinson says the team has made the best of its situation so far.

“I’m proud of our team because they’ve been very consistent,” Atkinson said. “They’ve been very smart throughout this whole process and throughout all the (COVID-19) testing, so they’re doing everything that they can control.”

The women’s team is led by committee. The Aggies return six of their top seven scorers from last season. But they are left with a rather large role to fill after Gia Pack graduated. The 5-foot-10 guard averaged a WAC-best 18 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last season en route to her third All-WAC first team selection, and she ended her career with the fifth most points in program history.

Pack is now playing pro ball in Slovakia, and the Aggies hope to make up for her departure via committee rather than leaning on one player.

“We have to lean much more on each other,” sophomore guard Soufia Inoussa said. “We have more team play. … Everybody is going to contribute to this team.”

Among those contributors is redshirt senior Aaliyah Prince, who was named to the preseason All-WAC first team in both polls on Tuesday. The 5-foot-8 guard from San Antonio, Texas averaged 11.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

“Aaliyah definitely has to be one of the most athletic kids that I’ve ever coached,” Atkinson said. “She has the ability to score points and score them fast, but she’s also a great athlete defensively.”

Joining Prince in the back court is Inoussa, who was named to the All-WAC preseason second team in both polls. The 5-foot-7 guard from Stockholm averaged 7.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest last season as a true freshman and has been working on her shooting this offseason.

“I can see improvement during practice,” Inoussa said. “I hope that I can bring that into the games.”

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