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Travis Scores 27 as Aggies Defeat the Tigers, 75-61

March 08, 1986|JIM McCURDIE | Times Staff Writer

New Mexico State's strange and eventful season almost took another turn for the worse Friday night.

The Aggies, who started fast, finished with a whimper, and had to deal with the death of the mother of their star player in between, survived a threat from a University of Pacific team that once appeared to be in danger of not reaching the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.'s postseason tournament.

Guard Kenny Travis had a game-high 27 points to lead the Aggies to a 75-61 semifinal over UOP in front of 9,594 in the Forum.

New Mexico State (18-11) will meet top-seeded Nevada Las Vegas (30-4) in the tournament championship today at 2 p.m.

The Aggies didn't exactly enter this tournament with a wave of momentum. After an 8-1 start in which they emerged as the biggest surprise in the conference, they closed the regular season by winning only two of their last nine. One of the losses was an 88-74 decision to UOP in Stockton. That loss came on Feb. 15. Three days later, the mother of Gilbert Wilburn, the Aggies' leading scorer, died of heart failure.

UOP was a study in contrast. The Tigers won their last three games--five of their last six--to qualify for the tournament. And much of that spurt came without sophomore Domingo Rosario, the team's second-leading scorer, who broke his leg in an auto accident on Feb. 16.

New Mexico State had built a 20-8 lead early in the first half but, thanks largely to BrentCounts, UOP would not be blown out early. The son of former Laker center Mel Counts was 6 of 7 from the field in the first half for 12 points. His turnaround jumper in the lane cut New Mexico State's lead to 20-18 with 8:13 left in the half.

But Travis had 15 first-half points on 6 of 8 shooting, including a breakaway dunk at the buzzer that gave the Aggies a 31-25 halftime lead.

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