LEVELLAND—South Plains College women's basketball coach Cayla Petree thrives on the underdog mentality.
It can seem somewhat odd at times simply because the second-year Lady Texans head coach has won seemingly everywhere she's been.
That trend hasn't faltered this season, either, as coach Petree has her team ranked seventh in the country in the latest NJCAA polls, amassing a 23-4 season record including an 8-3 record in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference.
The Lady Texans' resume became even more impressive on Monday night following a 66-55 beat down of the No. 4 New Mexico Junior College Lady Thunderbirds at the Texan Dome.
"This was a huge step for our program, and I was really proud of our girls' resiliency tonight," Petree said. "I thought we really came out and tried to play for 40 minutes. We weren't flat and we came out aggressive, yet there was a sense of poise and control, and I felt like we came to win tonight opposed to the first time New Mexico beat us. It was a different mindset, a different mentality, and I'm just very proud of our girls."
Following a first quarter which saw the Lady Texans lead 18-15 after 10 minutes, Taylor Holley sparked a 16-2 run from South Plains with a 3-ball from the left corner to begin the second quarter. Yanina Inkina would hit from the perimeter with 6:41 left before the break to extend the lead to 28-17. Elizabeth Cera would cap off the run with a pair of free-throws to give the Lady Texans a 34-17 cushion with 5:09 remaining before the half.
Jasauen Beard scored 10 of her game-high 22 points in the front half as the sophomore from Midwest City, Oklahoma was 9-of-22 from the field and also hauled in 14 rebounds for the Lady Texans. Cera chipped in nine of her 11 points before the break as South Plains led 36-26 at the midway point.
"I think we came out knowing this was a must-win for us," Beard said. "After losing at the last second at Odessa, we knew we came out flat and couldn't afford to do that this game. In order to get an at-large bid and get to where we want to go in the national tournament we have to win every conference game we have left."
Inkina would connect on a 3-pointer from the left corner to begin the second half and extend the Lady Texans' lead to 39-26. Beard found the basket off an assist from Joneva Huey with 5:17 remaining in the third to push the lead to 45-33.
Beard would go on to widen the margin with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter with a 12-foot jumper from right side, extending South Plains' lead to 14, one they would never surrender. The Lady Texans have won three of their last four including two over teams currently ranked inside the top 20. South Plains currently sits in second place in the WJCAC, and will look to continue their push for a conference title come Feb. 20 when they travel to Howard College with tipoff slated for 5:45 p.m.
"I've been the underdog my entire life," Petree said. "That's who I am. As a player, as a coach, you can never get complacent and be comfortable with where you're at. We're excited to play and beat some top caliber teams, and this was a really good bounce-back win for us."