ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In times of need and adversity, a team’s seniors are often called upon to answer the call.
That was the lesson of the day in the New Mexico Lobos’ 80-68 victory over San Jose State (6-9, 0-4 MW) on Saturday afternoon in The Pit. UNM’s two seniors, Sara Halasz and Deeva Vaughn, combined to provide a 44-point scoring punch while giving the Lobos timely baskets when they needed it the most.
“Our seniors were huge. Deeva and Sara were seniors today. They did a great job and we got a great output from Antiesha as well,” coach Yvonne Sanchez said.
Halasz had a game for the ages with the first 20-point, 10-rebound performance of her career. Halasz’s final stat line was 23 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. Her 14 boards were a career high while her 23 points were one short of matching another career high.
As impressive as her scoring output was, Halasz’s defensive play was crucial down the stretch with a timely rejection and charge taken in the waning moments.
After climbing to a 10-point halftime, New Mexico pushed its advantage to 58-40 with 11 1/2 minutes remaining. The Spartans used their break-neck offensive tempo to bring the deficit down to six points in four minutes.
“The game was much closer than the final score," Sanchez said. "Their team (San Jose State) is hard to guard. They play smart, they shoot and they crash. They have one speed and it's 'go'.
"I credit our players because they got some runs in when they needed to,”
New Mexico held on, thanks to offensive rebounds and improved second-half shooting. The Cherry and Silver were scorching hot shooting the ball in the second half, converting 15-of-29 shots (51.7 percent). They also had 20 offensive rebounds and finished the game with a 51-34 advantage on the glass. Halasz and Kianna Keller combined to grab a dozen offensive rebounds alone. Keller, the freshman post player, recorded the first double-double of her career with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Vaughn recorded a season-high 21 points with six rebounds and four assists in an efficient 20 minutes of action. The scoring combination of Halasz and Vaughn marked UNM’s first game with a pair of 20-point scorers since Feb. 23, 2011. Antiesha Brown was one point short of becoming the team’s third 20-point scorer.
“I came into the game just looking to help the team, and I didn’t come in with the mindset that I needed to score," Vaughn said. "There was a stretch where my team needed me to score, and they got me the ball in right place to do that.”
The home team shot a respectable 15-of-21 (71.4 percent) from the free throw line for the game, but was flawless when needed. The Lobos converted all six of their free throws in the final 70 seconds of the game.
New Mexico (7-7, 2-1 MW) has now won its first two conference home games for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The Lobos will travel to UNLV for a Wednesday evening matchup at 8 p.m. (MST) from Cox Pavilion.
After letting their 10-point halftime lead slip to seven points, the Lobos regained a comfortable lead after a 12-4 run in 3 1/2 minutes going into the first media timeout of the second half.
However, the game of runs continued as San Jose State cut a 58-40 UNM lead to six beginning at the 11:29 mark with a 12-0 run in less than four minutes. The Spartans second-half offense was propelled by Riana Byrd, who scored all 12 of her points in the second half.
The once 18-point Lobo lead lingered in the single digits for nearly the final seven minutes of action. New Mexico’s 12-point winning margin came on the heels of clutch free throw shooting. Brown and Halasz combined to go 6-of-6 from the charity stripe in the final minute.
New Mexico began and ended the first half well against the up-tempo Spartans. UNM scored a quick four points to open the game before giving the lead right back as San Jose State scored seven straight points in 90 seconds. The game would go back and forth as the lead changed hands six times with two ties.
The Lobo shooting percentage dipped below 30 percent before a 13-4 run over the final 5:02 of the half. New Mexico was able to gain control of the game and earn a 10-point halftime lead by riding its two seniors. Halasz and Vaughn combined to score 17 of UNM’s final 21 points of the half.
Sanchez's charges dominated the glass in the first 20 minutes against the Spartans with a plus-12 advantage (29-17). UNM collected 14 offensive rebounds, which lead to 11 second-chance points. Halasz finished the half with 13 points and seven rebounds.