J with a hand in the face

Texas Tech guard Monique Smalls looks past Tulane’s Jamie Kaplan during the Lady Raiders’ 69-55 victory against the Green Wave on Sunday in United Spirit Arena.

The Lady Raider basketball team will try to extend its season by winning its Women’s National Invitation Tournament third round matchup against San Diego tonight in United Spirit Arena.

The team is happy to still be playing games in late March, Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry said.

“We’re just excited to be able to continue to play,” she said. “We’ve got a chance to go to an Elite Eight. There’s another Elite Eight about to happen and when you look across this tournament, there are very worthy NCAA Tournament teams, so, again, it’s just trying to turn it into the most positive experience we can. That’s what life’s about.”

The game will be the second time the two teams have met this season, as then-ranked No. 13 Tech narrowly escaped with a 58-57 victory against the tournament host of the Surf N’ Slam Classic in San Diego.

The Lady Raiders hope to use the home crowd advantage against the Toreros, Curry said.

“We’re excited to be at home and defend our home floor the way they defended their home floor there,” she said, “and we know that they’re going to be fired up because of that. I know we were both better for having played each other. That was a great experience for us.”

The Lady Raiders have experienced changes since their last meeting against San Diego, Tech sophomore Kelsi Baker said.

“The starting lineup is different and we love that certain people can start and certain people can come off the bench, and we’ve just grown,” she said. “Back then we didn’t really have any obstacles, I guess you want to say, because we were 12-0. Now we’re just pushing, we’re fighting, so I think it’s more of a sense of urgency at this point.”

The Lady Raiders have been able to play complete games in the first two rounds of the WNIT, Baker said.

“There was several Big 12 games that we didn’t close out,” she said, “and I feel like these first two WNIT games, we’ve stayed poised and we’ve worked on closing them out and we’ve closed them out efficiently.”

The team is using the postseason as motivation for the underclassmen for next season and everyone has to play with more maturity, Curry said.

“It’s a springboard,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to jumpstart our season next year and build from this and grow from this.”

Both teams will be hungry to extend their seasons, so Tech will have to come out fired up, Tech junior guard Casey Morris said.

“The competition is just going to get better and better as we get farther in the tournament,” she said. “We know that San Diego is a good team, and we know some of their tendencies, so it’s good to be able to play against a team that we’re familiar with.”

At this point in the season, mental toughness is a large key to success, Morris said.

“In the postseason it’s more mental than physical,” she said. “Every team is going to be drained at this point. The teams that come out on top are the ones that are able to put together physical and mental play and be able to execute on the court and fight through all of the tiredness and want to win.”

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