LEVELLAND — A top-five matchup with conference championship implications and a national spotlight will bring a multitude of questions to the mind of a head coach, and their team alike.
Have we done enough? ... Are we ready? ... How will we respond?
Tack on eight freshmen looking to shut down a perennial national power in the biggest game of their careers; those questions become magnified that much more.
The answers to those questions, however, would come early and often on Monday night as the No. 5-ranked South Plains College women's basketball team left no doubt, pummeling No. 3 New Mexico Junior College 66-51 in front of a raucous crowd at the Texan Dome.
"I thought we made game-winning plays for 40 minutes, and the end score reflected it," South Plains head coach Cayla Petree said. "We talked about New Mexico being a very good basketball team and it might come down to a late game situation and how important it was for us to not leave anything to chance and to make those kinds of plays for the full 40 minutes. I think our girls did a phenomenal job of not forcing anything and trying to put the entire game on their shoulders. There's no million dollar plays or home runs, we were trying to get singles all night long."
Tied at 12 with two ticks on the clock in the first quarter, Sarah Shematsi sparked the Lady Texans' offense with a 3-ball from the right corner as time expired to give South Plains a 15-12 advantage early on.
South Plains would ride that momentum over the next 10 minutes as they shot 63.3 percent from the floor in the second quarter as Caroline Germond and Gabbie Green combined for 17 points in the front half, carrying a 33-28 lead into the break.
"We knew this was a big game for us and everything we prepared for in practice paid off tonight," Green said. "Everyone did their job and did what our coaches expected us to do and our team prospered tonight. We knocked down shots and played our roles, and that's what we needed to do to beat a team like New Mexico."
The Lady Texans (19-1, 4-0) continued to find the net early in the back half when Germond dropped in a triple from the left wing to extend the Lady Texans' lead to 38-28. New Mexico's Thamires Andrade trimmed the deficit to five with a jumper from the top of the key but was immediately answered by Shematsi who knocked trey with a hand in her face to put South Plains up 49-41 with 1:25 to go in the third.
"After I made those first couple of shots I became confident and knew when I was open coach Petree trusted me to shoot the ball," said Shematsi, who finished with 20 points and eight boards. "We are so proud of this win and have been working all week and did everything we could to go out and beat a team like New Mexico."
Leading 52-41 heading into the final frame, Shematsi would hit yet again from the outside, extending South Plains' lead to 55-41 with 8:04 to play. The Lady Texans would continue to pour it on in the final minutes as Romola Dominguez dropped the final dagger with a 3-ball from the left wing as the Lady Texans would go on to lead by as much as 16 down the stretch.
Shematsi finished 7 of 12 from the floor and 6 of 10 from the 3-point line to go along with four steals and three assists. Green recorded 16 points, four rebounds and three assists over 36 minutes while Germond netted 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists.
South Plains shot 45.1 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from the perimeter while holding to Lady Thunderbirds to a 35.1 percent clip from the floor as New Mexico finished 2 of 12 from the 3-point line.