LAS VEGAS, Nev. — It did so much more than expected, but in the end the New Mexico women’s basketball team simply couldn’t do enough against top-seeded San Diego State to complete its miracle run in the Mountain West Conference tournament.
The seventh-seed Lobos battled, dived all over the court, played relentless defense and nearly erased all of an early 15-point deficit. But the Aztecs (25-6) were too athletic, too strong and too good, and pulled away for a 57-43 victory against New Mexico in Saturday’s title game at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The win clinches an NCAA Tournament berth for San Diego State. The Lobos finish their season under rookie coach Yyvonne Sanchez at 11-20 — but with a lot of positives heading into 2012-13.
“They have a passion to play for the Lobos,” Sanchez said of her team, which upset second-seeded UNLV and sixth-seeded Boise State to reach the title game. “They wear their uniform proudly. As the fans are passionate about our players, our players are passionate about playing for the University of New Mexico. We’ve got terrific leadership in that university. … That’s why you see them never give up.”
They never gave up Saturday, but the Aztecs’ domination of the boards was ultimately the difference. San Diego State started the game just 1-of-13 from the floor, but had outrebounded UNM by a whopping 14-3 margin. Still, SDSU led just 4-2 at that point.
But the Aztecs kept pounding the boards, the Lobos kept turning the ball over, and SDSU finally made enough shots to take leads of 12-4 and 19-4 before the Lobos scratched their way back.
Lobo senior Porche Torrance, who made the All-Tournament first team, scored five points in a 6-0 run to make it 19-10, and New Mexico got within 22-15 at the break. The teams combined to shoot a miserable 12-of-48 from the floor in the first half, but the Aztecs’ rebounding advantage — 27-15 overall, 12-0 on the offensive boards — was the biggest factor in the first 20 minutes.
The Lobos, however, had the momentum and continued it early in the second half. Senior Lauren Taylor, who got the starting nod, had a pair of three-point plays in the first three minutes of the second half and the Lobos pulled within 26-22.
“I felt like we turned the tide and had the momentum going for us,” said Taylor, who had 14 points and five rebounds. “The fans got behind us and helped us push back .”
But no closer.
The Aztecs soon pulled away behind MWC Player of the Year Courtney Clements (16 points, six rebounds) and guard Chelsea Hopkins (14 points, five rebounds, four assists). Hopkins was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while Clements was on the all-tourney team.
Clements’ 3-pointer with 4:21 left, after a missed 3 by UNM, made it 46-35 with just more than four minutes left. That was the dagger.
The Lobos finished the game 13-of-45 from the floor (28.9 percent) and 2-of-14 from 3-point range (14.3 percent). San Diego State was 19-of-54 from the field (35.2 percent) and 3-of-17 from behind the arc (17.6 percent).
SDSU outrebounded UNM 45-29.
Torrance finished with 12 points and six boards — and a great deal of pride.
“We haven’t been (in the championship game) since my freshman year,” Torrance said. “So to know that we started the legacy back up, to know that we are capable of making it to the championship game, and hopefully the future Lobos coming up can actually get past what we accomplished. Hopefully they can win a championship next year.”
The Aztecs finished 3-0 against New Mexico this season, winning 77-47 in San Diego and 57-44 at the Pit. The Aztecs were 12-2 during the MWC regular season. The Lobos were 3-11.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal