The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team shook off some holiday rust Saturday and earned a championship shot.
After a sluggish first half, the Lobos dominated the final 20 minutes of a 56-37 win over Western Carolina in round one of the Miami Hurricane Holiday Tournament in Coral Gables, Fla.
Paced by Antiesha Brown and Sara Halasz, UNM outscored the Catamounts 38-17 in the second half. Brown scored 12 of her 14 points after intermission, when Halasz also amassed 13 of her game-high 15 points.
As a result, the Lobos (5-5) will face host Miami in today’s championship game. The Hurricanes (7-4) trounced Morgan State 80-42 in Saturday’s tournament opener.
“Miami’s scary athletic, and we’ll have our work cut out for us,” UNM coach Yvonne Sanchez said in postgame phone interview, “but it’s fun to be able to play for a championship. That’s what we came out here for, and we’re ready to go fight for it.”
New Mexico was coming off a 13-day layoff Saturday, and its offense sputtered in the first half. The Lobos shot just 26 percent, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range, and trailed the Catamounts (6-5) by as many as seven points.
At one point UNM went 6:33 without scoring while Western Carolina turned a 9-8 deficit into a 16-9 lead.
Alexa Chavez finally scored inside to end the drought, and the Lobos cut the deficit to 20-18 at halftime. Sanchez said her message during the break was simple.
“It was really just about concentration and making shots,” Sanchez said. “I think they were a little shell-shocked in the first half, but we were playing good defense and only down two (points). I felt like we just needed a spark and we’d be fine.”
To that end Sanchez set up several quick plays for Brown to start the second half. The junior hit five straight shots, sandwiched around a Halasz jumper, and UNM grabbed a 30-27 lead. Western Carolina trimmed it to 30-29, but UNM outscored the Catamounts 26-8 the rest of the way.
Khadijah Shumpert finished with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks for New Mexico, and Chavez added four points and eight rebounds off the bench. Makensey Campbell led WCU with 11 points.