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New Mexico women overcome another slow start

Box score: New Mexico 83, Northern Arizona 76

The UNM women’s basketball team appears to be majoring in doing things the hard way so far this season.

For the second time in two games, the Lobos scratched their way out of a double-digit hole Friday night at Dreamstyle Arena before a turnout announced at 4,856. Jayla Everett and Antonia Anderson sparked an inspired comeback as UNM pulled out an 83-76 victory over Northern Arizona.

Everett finished with 29 points and six steals, while Anderson racked up a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds – both career highs. New Mexico needed every bit of it after the hot-shooting Lumberjacks raced to a 25-6, first-quarter lead.

It was a familiar refrain for the Lobos, who trailed 13-2 in Tuesday’s season-opener against UC Riverside. Coach Mike Bradbury changed his starting lineup Friday but the latest combination proved unsuccessful.

“I thought I’d found it,” Bradbury said. “Wrong again. The good news is, talent’s not a problem and our bench has been able to pick us up.”

UNM’s poor start and strong bench play led to some strange statistics. Paced by Jacey Bailey’s 21 points, NAU’s starters outscored UNM’s first five 67-30. But with Everett and Anderson leading the way, the Lobos’ bench outscored NAU’s 53-9.

“I don’t know what it is,” Anderson said of her team’s sluggish starts. “I hope we get it figured out by next week or we’re in for some rough games.”

Northern Arizona certainly deserved some of the credit Friday night. Aided by porous UNM defense, the Lumberjacks went 5-for-7 from 3-point range in the first quarter and thoroughly outplayed the cold-shooting Lobos on both ends of the court.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’re coming out with the right mind-set,” Everett said. “We’re too relaxed and letting people come at us when we should be on the attack.”

If nothing else, the 2019-20 Lobos have shown they can take a punch. After a Bailey 3 gave NAU a 30-12 lead early in the second quarter, New Mexico began fighting back, steadily chipping away at the deficit.

Bradbury altered his team’s half-court defense, trapping off ball screens to disrupt NAU’s rhythm, and the Lobos began to energize an announced Pit crowd of 4,856. An Anderson 3-pointer followed by a Najaja Howell three-point play capped a 16-6 tear and NAU’s lead was trimmed to 41-32 by halftime.

UNM continued to battle in the third quarter and took its first lead of the game, 56-55, when Ahlise Hurst buried a 3 with 5 seconds left. But the evening’s adversity wasn’t over yet.

NAU’s Nina Radford converted a Lobo turnover for a layup and was fouled by UNM’s Bride Kennedy-Hopoate. She then smacked the ball in frustration, inadvertently hitting a Lumberjacks player in the forehead. The resulting technical led to a five-point possession and sparked a 13-4 rally that gave Northern Arizona a 68-60 lead with 6:22 left.

“Our team could’ve folded after that happened,” Bradbury said. “Bride felt bad about it, but that’s tough. You work so hard to come back and just like that you’re down eight again.”

Instead, Everett ignited another comeback. Driving aggressively and forcing the action, the sophomore scored 12 points over the game’s final 5:31. Her driving basket gave UNM the lead for good at 74-73 with 2:41 left, and baskets by Anderson and Shaiquel McGruder helped UNM put things away with an 8-0 run.

McGruder finished with nine points and five rebounds for UNM, while Khiarica Rasheed scored 15 points for NAU.

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