After several early fizzles and some puffs of smoke, the UNM women’s basketball team finally found effective chemistry Tuesday night.
Khadijah Shumpert and Sara Halasz racked up double-doubles as the Lobos got things clicking in the second half and put away Wisconsin-Milwaukee 72-58 at the Pit.
Plagued by foul trouble and unable to stop smooth Panthers point guard Angela Rodriguez, the Lobos trailed 33-32 at halftime. But UNM (2-3) quickly turned things around after intermission and led by as many 19 points down the stretch.
“We needed this game,” Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez said, “and we had to beat a quality opponent. I felt like all our starters really contributed and our bench outscored theirs 11-1. That’s the kind of effort we need, and it came at a good time.”
Shumpert was the offensive spark for the Lobos, returning to the lineup after missing a game to attend a family funeral. The sophomore post collected 21 points and 12 rebounds – both career highs – before fouling out with 3:56 remaining.
“The last couple weeks have been rough for me,” Shumpert said. “I lost my great-grandmother and it’s been emotional. But I got a lot of support from family and my teammates, so coming back I feel brand new. That’s how tonight was for me.”
Shumpert simply had her way inside against the Panthers (1-3), grabbing nine offensive boards and accounting for most of UNM’s 20 second-chance points. UWM’s interior players finally resorted to fouling Shumpert, who was 7-for-8 from the line.
“That’s what Khadijah does,” Sanchez said, “and what we missed when she was gone.”
Halasz also played a starring role for the Lobos with her first double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) since 2010. But equally significant was Halasz’s second-half defense on Rodriguez, who torched the Lobos for 14 points in the first half but had to work hard to get seven after halftime.
Rodriguez, a preseason All-Horizon League pick, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
“We told our players how good (Rodriguez) was,” Sanchez said, “but I don’t think they believed us. Sara just made it her mission not to give her any room.”
Said Halasz: “We changed our strategy on (Rodriguez) at halftime and doubled her off every screen. I thought we did a good job containing her in the second half.”
With Rodriguez under wraps, the Panthers were unable to stay with UNM. Shumpert, Halasz and Deeva Vaughn scored all the points during a 12-0 run that gave the Lobos the lead for good at 44-35.
UNM’s players and a crowd of 5,379 seemed to gain even more spark when UWM’s Kimee Chandler effectively arm-tackled Halasz and was called for a flagrant foul during the pivotal run.
Vaughn, Bryce Owens and Antiesha Brown – New Mexico’s other three starters – also began to find their strides after combining for just nine points in the first half. Brown finished with 14 points, Vaughn had eight points and Owens seven.
“This was a big game for us because our team’s had a hard time coming together,” Shumpert said.
Sophomore Alexa Chavez led UNM’s reserves with six points and three rebounds in 12 solid minutes. But one of the night’s biggest cheers was reserved for walk-on freshman Marissa Perry, who scored her first Lobo points on a late baseline jumper.
Ashley Green finished with 17 points for the Panthers.