LAS CRUCES — This was a victory with a cherry-red bow on top.
The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team put together its best outing of the season Tuesday night, dominating New Mexico State 68-44 at the Pan American Center.
Caroline Durbin scored a game-high 18 points as the Lobos earned their 11th straight win in the Rio Grande Rivalry series and their 33rd in the past 34 meetings with the Aggies.
Tuesday’s margin of victory nearly matched that of UNM’s 60-37 win over NMSU at the Pit on Nov. 20, but the games were far from identical.
The Lobos did not play especially well in the first meeting, but the ice-cold Aggies were worse. In the rematch, New Mexico State played reasonably well for most of the night. New Mexico was just that much better.
“We put together as good a 40 minutes as we have all year,” Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez said. “New Mexico State is a team that can win the (Western Athletic Conference), I’m telling you. We just played terrific team basketball and took away a lot of things they like to do.”
UNM (8-3) started fast and led wire to wire in handing New Mexico State (5-4) its first home loss in five games this season. The Lobos shot 48 percent from the field to the Aggies’ 31 percent, and UNM dominated the rebounding battle 42-27.
“New Mexico played very, very well,” NMSU coach Mark Trakh said. “They’re athleticism gave us a lot of problems. They’re long and quick and did a good job denying our sets. We’re disappointed with some of the things we did, but all the credit goes to (the Lobos).”
It was a group effort for Sanchez’s team. All 14 players saw action and 11 scored.
That included redshirt sophomore Antiesha Brown, who made her UNM debut after sitting out a year under NCAA transfer rules. The ex-Texas Tech guard came off the bench to contribute eight points, four rebounds and an assist in 20 minutes.
“I had a little anxiety, some sea legs,” said Brown, who missed her first three shots including a layup. “But after that, I relaxed and felt good. I feel really good about the way we played as a team.”
Durbin, who hit four 3-pointers and was the lone Lobo to score in double figures, agreed.
“The first half especially, was the best we’ve played so far,” she said. “Not only our offense, but we really played lockdown D. I think we got (the Aggies’) shooters a little frustrated.”
Durbin and Sara Halasz sparked the fast start, combining to score UNM’s first 15 points. That included Durbin banking in a 3-pointer for the game’s opening basket.
Did she call the bank?
“I did,” she said with a laugh. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Meanwhile, the Aggies extended a streak of cold long-range shooting against their northern rivals. NMSU was 0-for-18 on 3-point attempts in Albuquerque and missed its first seven before hitting one Tuesday. As a result, the Lobos raced to a 17-3 lead.
“We got out of running our plays and took a lot of poor shots,” said Aggies guard Stefanie Gilbreath, who was 1-for-13 from the field and scored five points. “(The Lobos) pressured us, but we have to take the blame for taking too many 3s and not working the ball inside enough.”
New Mexico got a good mix of inside and perimeter shots and converted 50 percent in the first half. The visitors led 39-22 at halftime, much to the delight of nearly 400 Lobo fans who made the trip to Las Cruces. The announced crowd was 1,412.
The Aggies improved their shooting in the second half but were never able to make an extended run at the Lobos. Camilla Rosen’s post bank shot with 12:56 left trimmed the deficit to 47-33, but that was as close as it got.
Sasha Weber scored 10 points to pace NMSU.
With a comfortable lead, Sanchez was able to empty her bench in the closing minutes — and got several impressive outings from reserves. Jordyn Peacock collected four points, a rebound and a block in five minutes, and walk-on Alexa Chavez scored on a nice post move.
UNM’s bench outscored NMSU’s 30-4, making the Lobos a happy bunch as they prepare to visit UTEP on Thursday.
“A game like this helps a lot,” Durbin said. “UTEP’s a really good team that’s beaten us the last couple years, but everyone’s excited now. We can’t wait to play again.”