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The Cowgirls’ Ashley Salazar drives against the Islanders’ Trish Amboree. (Rick Hickman / American Press)<br>

The Cowgirls’ Ashley Salazar drives against the Islanders’ Trish Amboree. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Salazar comes off bench to lead Cowgirls past Islanders

Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 12:24 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Players diving on the floor for loose balls. Energetic play from the bench. Cecilia Okoye putting back her own miss on a free throw. The Baggett twins dialed in from long range.

The things that have made McNeese State the class of the Southland Conference the past two years were back on display Thursday night as the Cowgirls bounced back from a flat performance against Nicholls State on Monday for a 68-39 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Stung by criticism of their performance against Colonels, the Cowgirls (7-8, 2-2 SLC) opened the game with a 12-2 run and never looked back.

“I always like when you can turn a negative into a positive,” said Cowgirls head coach Brooks Donald Williams. “Some of the (alumni) came back and were at practice Wednesday, and when the younger kids see that and the passion they have for the program, it’s like ‘Wow.’ It really sparked this group.”

Ashlyn Baggett led the way with 24 points, including four 3-pointers.

“Coach tries to get us to get that same emotion every time out,” Baggett said. “We’re a young team so we’re going to be up-and-down. Getting that consistency is key. It takes every single person, whether they’re on the bench, whether they’re hurt. It takes all of us.”

Caitlyn Baggett bounced back from a 1-for-12 shooting performance against the Colonels with 10 points and eight assists.

“Caitlyn and I had a long talk after the Nicholls game,” Donald Williams said. “She had some great ideas about shooting early on the shot clock. We’ve always done that, but maybe this team needs some more continuity at times. We did that tonight and it was a big help.”

Perhaps the most valuable minutes of the game came from reserve guard Ashley Salazar. Entering with an average of 3.8 minutes per game, the sophomore stayed on the floor for 25 minutes as she provided a noticeable energy boost at the defensive end.

“It’s been coming,” Donald Williams said of Salazar’s progress. “We’ve talked about it a lot as a staff. She’s made mistakes like anybody else, but in practice she is just working, working, working. We felt she we going to get an opportunity soon. We’ve been saying that for a couple weeks now. We finally did, and she gave us something we haven’t had off the bench this year — a big spark of energy.”

Salazar didn’t have overwhelming offensive stats — five points and two rebounds — but the possession that best exemplified her night came when she hit a 3-pointer, then raced back and forced a tie-up at the other end of the floor.

“When I go in, I’m going to do my best to be a spark and get stops on defense,” Salazar said. “Anyone can play offense, but that’s not going to be there every day. Defense will be there every day. That’s what I did for my team, and in turn I stayed in.”

Salazar’s effort brought to mind former guard Raiyawna Gatlin, who was the spark off the bench for McNeese’s back-to-back NCAA tournament teams.

“That means a lot, especially to the starters who may be a little fatigued,” Ashlyn said. “She came in and gave us a spark, especially on defense. That gave us a second wind.”

Okoye finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, while Arianna James hauled in a game-high 11 boards for the Cowgirls.

McNeese limited the Islanders (1-13, 0-3) to 29.8 percent shooting from the field, a far cry from Nicholls’ 51-percent effort Monday night.

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