March 9, 2012
Lobo Women - At Mountain West Tournament - Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center
Friday: New Mexico 51. Boise State 50 -- MW Semifinals
Wednesday: New Mexico Lobos 61, UNLV Lady Rebels 58
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The history-making New Mexico Lobos made history once again. For the first time in the history of the Mountain West Tournament, a No. 7 seed has clawed its way into the championship game.
That No. 7 seed - the Lobos - beat Boise State 51-50 Friday in a gut-wrenching semifinal that had Pit West rocking.
Surprise? Well, maybe yes and maybe no.
The way the Lobos have played so far in the MW tournament leaves no question that on Saturday they are exactly where they deserve to be - facing No. 2 seed San Diego State for a crown and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it.
Amazingly, the 11-19 Lobos are a single win away from the NCAA dance. The Aztecs reached the title game with a 73-55 semifinal win over Wyoming.
"That's kind of like the Romans inviting the Christians to dinner," Coach Yvonne Sanchez said of her No. 7 Lobos going at the regular-season champion Aztecs. "They might beat us nine times out of ten, but we only have to beat them once."
The Lobos only had to beat Boise State once, too, and did it by slipping past Boise State by a single point in the Thomas & Mack. The Lobos rolled to a 29-17 halftime lead, fought back a Boise State rally that pushed the Broncos up 44-41, and stopped two Boise State shots in the final seconds.
The Broncos' final shot came underneath the bucket with about one second left on the clock. Boise's Julia Marshall had just rebounded a brick launched by teammate Kati Ishim with three seconds to play.
Marshall was going up for the winning shot when the Mountain's Defensive Player of The Year - Porche Torrance -- came over to say, "No."
Torrance got her sixth block of the game - a block that sent Marshall to the ground looking at the ref for help. Torrance looked at the ref, too, and there was no celebration for several long moments until the Lobos realized that there was no whistle, no foul.
"I didn't know if it was a foul or nothing, because the ref didn't say anything," said Torrance.
When the ref doesn't say anything, that means there was nothing to call. The block was clean - game over.
The Lobos advance to try and do what they have done twice in Vegas: stop a third team from beating the Lobos three times in a season.
"San Diego State is a great team and we have to have an attitude like we have had these past two games," said UNM's Caroline Durbin. "We are going to go and give it our best tomorrow (Saturday).
The ending of this game definitely was gut-wrenching for both teams. There was a lot of sloppy ball handling and a lot of missed shots. The Lobos turned the ball over 24 times and Boise State had 17 miscues.
"We kind of turned it over a lot," said Torrance.
The Broncos shot 29 percent from the floor. Some of those misses were the result of good Lobo defense. Some of those Bronco misses were the results of bad shots. Lauren Lenhardt had 18 points and 10 boards for Boise, but shot 5-of-17, often forcing up bad shots.
Torrance scored 15 points and added 12 rebounds. UNM won the board battle, 38-36. The other half of UNM's one-two punch, Durbin, had 15 points - several key buckets down the stretch that help knock down the Broncos' rally.
"I just had to keep working for it and keep running off screens," said Durbin. "My teammates did a great job in getting me open."
Two of the biggest shots for UNM came off the hands of seniors Nikki Nelson and Lauren Taylor. Nelson, who had 10 turnovers, hit a 3-pointer at the 3:47 mark to give UNM a 47-44 lead. Taylor drove the lane and kissed a shot off the glass at 3:07 to push UNM up 49-44 heading into the final three minutes.
The Lobos' final basket came from Durbin at 1:41 and again raised the Lobos into a five-point lead at 51-46.
The Broncos used the Lobos 24th turnover of the game to pull to 51-50 and had possession of the ball with 27 ticks to go. That possession led to Jourdan Erskine pressuring Isham into a bad shot and Torrance following that with maybe the biggest block of her career.
The Lobos said the huge UNM crowd was a key to getting them through the tough moments at the stretch.
"It feels exactly like The Pit on its best day," said Durbin. "It's like a home game for us."
Said Torrance: "Without them, we wouldn't have made it this far. Our team feeds off their energy."
Second Half: Boise State 33, New Mexico 22
The Broncos came out of their locker room and quickly cut UNM's 29-17 halftime lead to 29-22. Coach Sanchez burned a time out. Durbin hit a 15-footer to give UNM a 31-22 lead and Lauren Lenhardt scored two free throws: 31-24.
The Broncos cut UNM's lead to 31-28 and Sanchez called another time out. The Lobos had six turnovers going into the 15:11 media break.
The Lobos got two jumpers from Durbin and layups by Taylor and Nelson to take a 39-35 lead into the 11:25 media break. The Broncos had improved their play, but the Lobos were hanging in there.
Isham banged in a three to make it 39-38 in UNM's favor. The teams then drifted into a stretch of sloppy ball handling and poor shooting. Torrance went to the line at the 8:05 mark and scored her first two points of the half to give UNM a 41-38 lead.
Boise's Heather Pilcher cut the lane and rattled in a long layup to make it 41-40 which carried into the 7:05 media break.
Boise State took its first lead of the game at 42-41 when Lenhardt followed her own miss with a put-back. Torrance missed inside and Pilcher hit two free throws followed by two free throws by Torrance: 44-43.
Torrance made a free throw to tie the game at 44-all. Boise State missed an easy shot inside and Nelson punished the Broncos with a 3-pointer that handed UNM a 47-44 lead. Isham tried to match Nelson's bomb and had a nice look that rattled out.
Taylor scored on a drive at the other end and UNM was up by five points: 49-44. UNM carried that lead into a time out with 2:48 to play.
Boise cut their hole to 49-46 on a Lenhardt layup. Durbin came back with a tough baseline jumper: 51-46. Nicole Brady scored on a drive and UNM was up 51-48 with 1:22 to go.
The Lobos made their 24th turnover of the game at 1:12 and Boise' Brady drove the baseline and scored: 51-50. The Lobos failed to get a decent shot on offense and Taylor was forced to throw up a long bomb as the shot clock ticked down. Her shot hit the rim and went out of bounds. Boise had the ball with 27.3 seconds to play - down 51-50.
That led to Erskine's pressure, Isham's brick, Marshall's rebound, Torrance's block.
"These girls are incredible," said Sanchez. "They have never wavered."
First Half: New Mexico 29, Boise State 17
The Lobos had an effective one-two punch in the first half: Porche Torrance and solid defense. The Lobos also had some help from the Broncos, who seemed frazzled by the UNM defense and started missing open looks when they had them.
The Broncos bricked at an 80 percent rate in the first half and made only 20 percent of their shots: 6-of-30. The Lobos shot a respectable 42.9 percent with Torrance going 5-of-10 inside to finish with ten points and seven boards.
Thanks to Torrance, UNM outscored the Broncos in the paint 16-8. The Lobos had some ugly turnovers and finished with 11, but Boise State was a turnover behind UNM with ten miscues. UNM won the board battle, 23-17 with Jourdan Erskine added five rebounds. Durbin had seven points in the first 20 minutes and knocked down UNM's lone trey.
The Lobos slid up 6-0 early off three buckets inside by Torrance. Boise came back to make it 8-6, but the Lobos pulled away again, doubling the Broncos' count at 12-6.
The Lobos continued to guard their lead. An 18-foot jumper by Jackson gave UNM a 16-9 lead and at the 7:19 media break UNM was up 16-11. The Broncos, normally a good shooting team, had a lot of nice looks, but continued to miss shots.
With 2:49 to play, the Lobos were up 22-15 off a Durbin layup. Erskine hit two free throws to push UNM up 24-15 and Durbin hit UNM's only 3-pointer of the half to form a 27-15 UNM lead. The Lobos carried that 12-point lead into the half at 29-17.