Zias fall at home

Tia Doss spins around Angelo State’s Christina Johnson to get better positioning in the second half of Saturday’s Lone Star Conference South Division game at Greyhound Arena. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)

By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers

Senior center Natalja Tsurbakova scored 20 points while adding 11 rebounds and four assists as Angelo State led from start to finish Saturday night in a 77-60 Lone Star Conference South Division women’s victory over Eastern New Mexico University at Greyhound Arena.

The 6-foot-3 Tsurbakova, who is from Estonia, scored 16 of her points in the first half as the Rambelles (18-2, 6-1 South) maintained their division lead. ENMU (9-12, 3-5) got 17 points from sophomore guard Heather Brown, while junior post Tiana Bryant and junior forward Tia Doas added 12 points apiece.

Tsurbakova got inside for a basket just 11 seconds into the game and the Rambelles never relinquished the lead. They shot 60 percent from the field in the first half (21-of-35) in building a 45-30 lead and the Zias were only able to get it under double figures once the rest of the way.

“She’s the best player in the country,” ASU coach Sally Walling Brooks said of Tsurbakova, the South’s preseason player of the year. “We’re just very lucky to have her. She’s a difference-maker.

“We’ve got a very mature team. We’re not going to lose our composure. Eastern New Mexico made a good run at us, but we’re not going to get rattled.”

The Zias were coming off a three-point loss to Abilene Christian on Thursday night in which they took a late lead after trailing by 22 points in the first half, but the Rambelles weren’t going to allow anything like that.

“We were playing a better team tonight,” acting ENMU women’s coach Dustin Klafka said. “Tsurbakova has been there for three years and they’ve won 20-plus games every year. The know how to handle (opponents’) runs.

“Some nights you’re going to give it everything you’ve got and you just get beat. We didn’t have any answers for Tsurbakova.”

Tsurbakova did not have an official field goal attempt in the second half after making 7-of-8 shots in the first half, but junior forward Christina Johnson picked up the slack with 12 of her 14 points.

“That’s why she’s an All-American,” Klafka said of Tsurbakova. “She beat us on both ends of the floor. She had a hand in everything they did offensively.”

ENMU, striving to earn one of four berths in the LSC tournament in early march, will face Angelo and Abilene again next week — this time on the road.

“The schedule hasn’t been in our favor all year long,” Klafka said. “We’re just going to have to continue to lay it on the line.”

In a loosely-called game, especially early, Tsurbakova and her teammates were able to maneuver at will to position themselves for high-quality shots. Just five fouls were called in the half, only one on ASU.

ENMU stayed within 19-13 with nine-plus minutes gone after a 3-pointer from the left wing by Brown gave her nine points, but the Rambelles went on a 9-0 run capped by two baskets from Nowlin to open a 15-point lead with 8 1/2 minutes left.

Trailing 34-17, Mika Robertson’s 3-pointer started a countercharge for the Zias. Brown and Casey Rodriguez added 3-pointers to cut the margin under double figures (36-28) with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.