ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The day before the New Mexico Lobos’ midweek game versus the Wyoming Cowgirls (10-3, 1-1 MW), junior guard Antiesha Brown made a simple statement to the media.
“We are really excited to be back in The Pit in front of our fans.”
That excitement at Bob King Court was mutual as New Mexico (6-7, 1-1 MW) gave their fans one of the team’s most complete offensive performances in a 75-65 victory in their Mountain West home opener.
“I told them in the locker room, I couldn’t be more proud of the group than I am right now. That was a big-time performance by a lot of people. We were two points away from having six players in double digits… I could go down the line, but I’m very proud of this group. It’s a good win, and we’re going to definitely going enjoy tonight,” said Head Coach Yvonne Sanchez.
Five Lobos scored in double digits led by Sara Halasz with 18 points and nine rebounds. Halasz was supported by Deeva Vaughn (13 points), Antiesha Brown (13 points), Alexa Chavez (eleven points) and Bryce Owens (ten points). Wednesday night marked the first time New Mexico had five double-digit scorers in a game since Dec. 2, 2009.
Chavez’s performance came in the first start of the sophomore walk-on’s career. Her eleven points were career high as well.
“It’s incredible. She’s earned that start. She’s absolutely earned it. To get out there and get eleven points, four rebounds and shoot 50 percent? That’s a heckuva kid. And I’ll tell you what: she’ll be in that starting lineup for a while if she continues that. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of what she’s done,” Sanchez noted of Chavez’s performance.
They quintet of scorers propelled their team to its best shooting performance of the season at 51.8% from the field. That season-high field goal percentage was aided by UNM’s blistering 14-25 (56.0%) shooting in the second half. The hot shooting kept the Lobos in control throughout the game as they led by ten or more points for the final eleven and a half minutes.
While the offense entertained the crowd of 5,445 with efficient and consistent scoring, Sanchez’s Lobos defended with the same zeal. UNM held Wyoming to nine points below their scoring average while limiting the Cowgirls’ best offensive threat to a 2-14 (14.3%) performance from the field. Kayla Woodward, the MW Preseason Player of the Year, finished with ten points and missed on all eight attempts from inside the arc. The ten points were seven below her season average.
The Cherry & Silver earned a split in their first two conference games against the MW’s top non-conference performers. Colorado State and Wyoming combined to go 17-5 in non-conference play. The Rams are now one of only three teams in the league without a conference loss.
“I think tonight’s a great example of it (parity in the conference). Colorado State is a good team, and we lost to a good team on the road. Wyoming is a good team, but we played really well at home. I think it’s a great example of how open this conference can be,” Sanchez commented.
New Mexico returns to Bob King Court on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 2 p.m. when they welcome the San Jose State Spartans to The Pit.
New Mexico’s five-point lead at the intermission was never be erased by the visitors from Laramie. The Cherry & Silver opened the second half with a 16-10 run in the first seven minutes and forced a timeout from Coach Joe Legerski from the Wyoming bench.
After pushing their lead to double figures, the two teams again traded baskets. UNM led by ten or more points for the final eleven and a half minutes.
The pace slowed down as both teams entered the bonus and double bonus. The two teams were whistled for only eight total fouls in the first half, but they made their way to the free throw line a combined 33 times in the second half.
The balanced attack of the Lobo offense was apparent from the opening tip as a different player converted each of New Mexico’s first six made field goals of the game. The game was back and forth as the lead changed hands four times with six ties as well. The Cowgirls (44.4%) went shot for shot with the Lobos (48.4%) for much of the first half before conceding a five-point halftime lead at 33-28.
The Lobos were paced in the first 20 minutes by Sara Halasz with eleven points on five of seven shooting. The senior did a majority of her damage in the paint as New Mexico doubled up Wyoming 24-12 in points in the paint.
Deeva Vaughn, playing in just her second game after injury, grabbed five rebounds. Vaughn had grabbed six rebounds in her previous three games combined.