When they were high schools stars, Bianca Torres and Marah Guzman played for two of the Valley’s perennial powers. Now as teammates in college, the pair of guards is intent on bringing The University of Texas-Pan American into the winner’s circle.
Each local product nailed two free throws Saturday inside the final minute as the Lady Broncs held off South Dakota, 60-57 at the Field House. Torres had a key steal down the stretch and earlier, she and Guzman had combined to rip one, helping the team to its third win in four Great West Conference outings.
The freshman out of Harlingen South leads the squad with 11 points and four assists a game, while Guzman, the Edinburg High legend, has increased her production lately, getting 5.5 points now in 22 minutes a night and running second on the team in assists, No. 1 in free throw percentage at over 92 percent. The senior hit 10 of 10 Saturday as the team converted 22 charity tosses to just five for the three-point shooting Lady Coyotes.
Against South Dakota, they spurred a comeback from a 37-29 halftime deficit, playing tight defense and feeding 6-foot senior Aleeya Grigsby inside. The Lady Broncs went most of the way with five starters, and Torre says that UTPA (8-13 overall) is beginning to figure things out.
“It was weird at first because I wasn’t used to losing,” said the durable 5-5 newcomer who was the area’s best girls’ player in many a moon. “But we are all getting on the same page right now, and we’ve done well in conference so far.”
As the Lady Broncs chipped away at the lead, Grisgby (16 points, 10 boards) scored 10 while the team came out of the zone defense and into the man to man. Coach Denny Downing noted he mixed up the defenses after a first half in which South Dakota made five long bombs to take the lead.
“We had to start attacking the basket a little more and do what we do well, which is get out and run the ball up,” said Downing, in his first season in Edinburg. “Going to a man defense helped us do that.”
Pan Am finally assumed the lead with 2:09 left on two Guzman free throws and then Torre did what she was known for in high school, stealing one and going the distance; she stopped on a dime and let the defender fly by before sinking a layup to make it 56-53. The Lady Broncs held the lead the rest of the way as their Valley stars came through in the clutch.
The team now looks toward road games at Utah Valley Thursday and Chicago State Saturday as the quest for a conference title continues. The Orange and Green will be back at the Field House Feb. 4 and Feb. 6 for matches against Houston Baptist and Utah Valley.
“We want to change the culture around here, to one where we expect to win every night,” said Torre, who noted that she always looked up to the older Guzman in high school, and still does. “I love playing with Marah, she came up to me with 34 seconds left before I shot those two free throws and told me, ‘Just put them in, B.’ It’s really fun to be playing side by side with her.”
MEN GO DOWN IN FINAL SECONDS
It was not good news for the Bronc men in the second half of the home doubleheader Saturday. On a night when the 1962-63 NAIA national champion team was honored at the half, UTPA blew a 51-35 lead to South Dakota, going down to defeat 71-71 when Jared Maree’s three-point attempt missed at the buzzer.
Exciting freshman Aaron “Speedy” Urbanus was outstanding with a career-high 25 points and the Broncs set a season best for points in a half by going 7 of 8 from downtown in a killer first 20 minutes.
But the Coyotes went on a 16-2 run in the second half against a sluggish home side, and carved out the narrow win. The Broncs dropped to 3-21 overall and 2-2 in conference, after a double-overtime loss to North Dakota Thursday. They scored just 20 points after intermission.
Maree added 13 for the Broncs while guard Julius Hearn had some great moments, finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds. But SD shot 61 percent from the floor in the second half while the Broncs hit just 28.1 percent.
Urbanus nailed a trey for a 71-68 lead with 1:34 to go, but the Coyotes scored the last four of the game to take the victory, including the game winner on a stickback on the offensive glass with 5 seconds left.