The long ball could even the playing field.
“We are going to have to make 11 or 12 3s, but it’s going to be tough because (Arizona State) extends their defense against everyone,” said Aggies coach Mark Trakh, who is taking NMSU (26-4) to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.
This will be the fourth NCAA Tournament in program history. The Aggies lost to Washington both in 1987 and 1988, and 75-57 as a No. 16 seed playing at top-seeded Maryland last year.
Similar to last season’s first-round game at Maryland, the Aggies will be undersized once again against the 25-6 Sun Devils. Sophie Brunner (12 points per game) at 6-foot-1, 6-4 Quinn Dornstauder and 6-foot Kelsey Moos make up a formidable Arizona State front line.
“We have been focusing on keeping the ball out of the post area,” Aggie guard Moriah Mack said. “As guards, we need to pressure the ball and help our posts out.”
The Aggies’ biggest weapon, however, is coming around at the right time. NMSU is shooting 33 percent from long range on the season, with 7.6 made 3s per game. NMSU nailed 11 triples in Saturday’s 80-53 victory over Texas-Rio Grande Valley for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship.
“If we get hot from the 3 and they miss some shots they normally make, it could happen like what happened to us against UTRGV when they beat us on Senior Night,” Trakh said. He was referencing the Aggies’ lone conference loss when UTRGV made eight 3-pointers while NMSU was 4 of 22 from long range at home.
Arizona State won’t make it easy. ASU allows 3.6 made 3s per game, and opponents are shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc. Arizona State plays a pressure man-to-man, full-court press and extends pressure past the 3-point arc in the half court.
Ball security will also be key for the Aggie guards. Arizona State forces 18.1 turnovers per game. But if the Aggies can handle ASU’s pressure, NMSU guards Sasha Weber, Shanice Davis, Mack, Brooke Salas and Tamera William have shown the ability to get to the paint off the dribble to create open shots.
Weber, who averages an Aggie-best 12.3 points per game, was 6 of 13 from 3-point range last weekend.
“Their point guards pressure the ball hard, but that is the strength of our team, so I think they can handle it,” Trakh said.