ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Is it too late to cancel the auction?
After Wednesday night’s exciting 65-58 women’s basketball win over UNLV, the New Mexico Lobos might want to keep their sporty pink jerseys.
Khadijah Shumpert and Antiesha Brown sparked a strong second half as UNM avenged its worst Mountain West Conference loss of the season in front of a fired-up “Pink Game” crowd announced at 6,539.
The Lobos raised more than $4,400 for the Kay Yow Foundation and seemed to draw inspiration from a group of cancer survivors who were introduced during the first half.
“We were playing for something bigger tonight and we knew it,” said Brown, who scored all of her team-high 18 points in the second half. “Having those survivors here cheering us on, I really think it gave us an extra boost of energy.”
UNM (9-15, 4-7) snapped a three-game losing streak and ended a string of frustrating close losses. It also scored a little payback for last month’s 78-56 thumping at the hands of the Rebels in Las Vegas, easily the Lobos’ most one-sided conference loss.
More important, Brown said, the Lobos snapped UNLV’s four-game winning streak at the Pit, one that included a 58-57 heartbreaker last season.
“I wouldn’t really say we’re rivals with UNLV,” Brown said, “but there’s definitely something there. It’s nice to beat them and not let them celebrate on our home court.”
UNM earned the series split despite failing to fix the turnover problem that plagued it in Las Vegas. In fact, the Lobos had two more giveaways (24) Wednesday than they had in the first meeting with UNLV.
But an obvious change in UNM’s favor was the presence of Shumpert. The sophomore post missed the first UNLV matchup with concussion symptoms. Wednesday she amassed 14 points, a career-best 13 rebounds, two assists, three blocks and three steals.
“I think she made a little bit of a difference,” Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez said with a chuckle. “In my opinion, Khadijah’s playing at an all-conference level. She was certainly huge tonight.”
Both teams sputtered through much of the first half, when they combined for 27 turnovers and were not bailed out by the incessant foul calls that had marred recent UNM games. Each team was whistled for only five fouls.
UNLV (10-15, 7-6) led 30-27 at intermission and the lead would have been larger but for New Mexico’s bench. Brea Mitchell and Brooke Allemand combined to hit three 3-pointers as the Lobo reserves outscored their Rebel counterparts 13-5.
“I thought we played pretty well in the first half,” Sanchez said. “We just had waaaay too many turnovers.”
Things turned around quickly in the second half.
Bryce Owens nailed a tying 3, and Brown and Shumpert scored four points apiece during an 11-3 Lobo tear. Mitchell followed with her third 3-pointer of the night and suddenly UNM led 41-33.
“Our goal was to make UNLV call a timeout before the first media,” Sanchez said, “and we did that. I really liked the way we started that second half.”
However, any thoughts of New Mexico pulling away for a comfortable win did not last long. Consecutive turnovers on bad passes led to an 8-1 Rebel run, with Danielle Miller scoring six of the points. Miller led all scorers with 20 points.
UNLV would ultimately tie the game at 52 on a Miller jumper with 7:01 left, but the Lobos refused to buckle. Sara Halasz scored on a driving layup, and Brown completed a three-point play to put the home team back in front to stay.
Late missed free throws did not allow the Lobos to slam the door until the final minute, but no one in a pink jersey was complaining afterward.
“This means a lot for us,” Shumpert said. “We’ve had so many nail-biters that we didn’t pull through at the end. We finally did and it feels great.”
Owens finished with eight points, five boards and six assists for UNM, which will likely have to settle for one “pink” performance. The Lobos raised $3,100 from a pink jersey auction.