San Antonio – Natalie Gamez scored 15 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead the way as 24th-ranked St. Mary’s University defeated Oklahoma Panhandle State University, 79-59, in the semifinals of the Heartland Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament Friday afternoon at the Super Pit on the campus of the University of North Texas.

The Rattlers struggled over the first 10 minutes of the game, making just four of their first 12 shots from the field to fall behind 17-11 with 10:11 left in the first half. But the Aggies’ Jasmine Williams picked up her second foul of the half and the Rattlers took advantage. St. Mary’s made nine of their final 16 shots from the field, including four three-pointers to end the half on a 28-5 run to take a commanding 39-22 lead into the locker room at the break.

St. Mary’s wasted no time in expanding their lead in the second half. Chastity Noble (So., El Paso) started the half with a three-pointer to give the Rattlers a 20-point lead at 42-22 with 18:13 left. OPSU cut the Rattler advantage to just 14 on a pair of Williams’ jumpers, the second with 15:08 left to play. The Rattlers responded with a lay-up and three free throws by Rachel Jones (Jr., Little Rock, Ark.), followed by a lay-up by Farren Fox (So., Marble Falls), which increased the Rattler lead to 23 points at 13:12 left to play.

From there the Aggies turned to long-range shooting and a full-court press to try to get them back in the game. The move allowed OPSU to go on a 22-9 run, cutting the Rattler lead to just nine at 66-57 on a Megan Hamilton three-pointer with 3:53 left to play. But Ashton Benford (Jr., Waxahachie) hit a driving lay-up after the Aggies missed the front end of back-to-back one-and-one free throw opportunities. The Rattlers then ended the game with an 8-0 run to pull away for the win.

Gamez (Jr., San Antonio) recorded her sixth double-double of the season, making 4-of-11 shots from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Her 14 rebounds was her second highest this season, behind the school-record tying 18 she pulled down against OPSU earlier this season. Jones led the Rattlers with 16 points, seven rebounds and five steals. Noble had 15 points and Benford added 10 points.

As a team the Rattlers hit on 38.9 percent (21-54) of their shots from the field, but made 73.2 percent of their free throws. Their 41 free throw attempts ties for the third most in a single game in school history, while their 30 makes is tied for the second most in a single game. The Rattlers outrebounded the Aggies, 54-31.

The Aggies hit on just 31.7 percent (19-60) of their shots and committed 21 turnovers. Megan Hamilton made four three-pointers and led all players with 21 points in the game. Williams was the only other Aggie in double figures with 13 points.

With the win, the Rattlers have now won 23 straight games and improved to 24-4 overall this season. The Aggies saw their season come to an end with a 15-14 record. St. Mary’s will face the winner of the University of the Incarnate Word-St. Edward’s University game on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Super Pitt in Denton.

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