Wednesday night’s first quarter served as a reality check for the UNM women’s basketball team.
The reality wasn’t pretty.
Visiting UTEP put on a first-quarter clinic and dumped the sputtering Lobos into a quick 15-2 hole. New Mexico started 0-for-10 from 3-point range and didn’t so much as bother Miners forward Zuzanna Puc, who scored 10 first-quarter points off well-executed pick-and-roll plays.
“They came out ready to go and kind of slapped us in the face,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said of the Miners.
The slap was a needed wake-up call. The Lobos responded with a 14-0 second-quarter run and steadily pulled away from there in a 69-51 victory at Dreamstyle Arena. Aisia Robertson scored a team-high 20 points and effectively pushed UNM into its desired fast pace en route to its fifth straight win.
UTEP (2-6) looked considerably better than its record early, executing its patient offense and converting layups while New Mexico was entirely out of sync. But when the Lobos started running, the Miners couldn’t keep up.
“My thing is, I go fast no matter what,” Robertson said. “When we play against teams that slow it down, I have to make sure I stay engaged on defense and look for opportunities to speed things up.”
Wednesday’s opportunity came with 6:15 left in the second quarter and UTEP holding a 23-13 lead. Robertson darted to the basket for a fast-break layup that seemed to finally ignite the Lobos and an announced crowd of 4,490.
Shai McGruder followed with a put-back, Jayla Everett and Robertson hit back-to-back 3s, Jaisa Nunn scored inside and, just like that, UNM had its first lead of the evening. When Ahlise Hurst added a fast-break layup, the Lobos had scored 14 straight points in a span of 3:26 and taken a 27-23 lead.
Nunn, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, said the dramatic turnaround was easily explained.
“In the first quarter we just did not have enough energy and (the Miners) came out on fire,” Nunn said. “We looked up and it was 15-2 and we said, ‘OK, we dug ourselves this hole. Now we have to get out of it.’ We did but we shouldn’t have had to.”
The Miners, who came in with five losses by a combined 13 points, got the pace back to their liking in the third quarter. Katarina Zec’s 3-pointer with 5:04 left cut UNM’s lead to 37-34.
Then Jayla Everett took over.
The freshman guard twice drove the length of the court for baskets to spark a 9-2 run that put UNM up 46-36 going to the fourth quarter. Everett, who finished with 14 points, added two more baskets on slick post moves during a 14-5 run in the fourth quarter that gave the Lobos a 60-43 lead and put the game out of reach.
“Jayla was really good in the second half,” Bradbury said. “She had a couple big transition layups in the third quarter when we needed them.”
Puc finished with a game-high 21 points for UTEP but had to work much harder for points after the first quarter. UNM began trapping on the Miners’ high ball screens and picked up its defensive intensity, ultimately forcing 18 turnovers.
The Lobos outscored UTEP 23-4 in points off turnovers and racked up 34 fast-break points to the Miners’ seven.
“We’d been playing teams that are super athletic and just push the ball,” Nunn said. “It took us a while to adjust playing a team that’s really patient and makes you play defense for 30 seconds every time down.”
“This one was not pleasing to the eye at times,” he said. “UTEP kind of took us out of our game early and we had to turn up our defense to get things turned around. We found a way, though.”
Eleven players saw action for the Lobos, including senior Emily Lines who had missed UNM’s first six games with a broken finger. Sophomore Madi Washington did not play after Bradbury said she suffered a minor injury in pregame shoot-around. He called her status “day to day.”