The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team was forced to try a new approach Saturday in Reno, Nevada.
Plan B worked like a charm.
With their normally potent 3-point shooting attack shut down and host Nevada scoring effectively, the Lobos switched things up. Attacking the basket on offense and employing a hustling 2-3 zone on defense, UNM used a big fourth quarter to earn a 78-67 victory over the Wolf Pack.
Ahlise Hurst scored 17 points and Jaedyn De La Cerda added 15 as New Mexico (5-0, 2-0 Mountain West) swept the two-game, conference-opening series. LaPraisjah Johnson scored 17 points to lead the Wolf Pack (4-3, 0-2).
Saturday’s rematch was nothing like the Lobos’ 88-69 victory in Thursday’s opener. UNM hit 14 3-pointers in that contest, led by as many as 29 points and was never threatened.
Round two featured nine lead changes and the score was tied 11 times, with the Lobos going just 4-for-19 from 3-point range. Nevada coach Amanda Levens changed her starting lineup, employing a smaller, quicker unit that forced UNM to adapt.
“They did a nice job chasing us on the perimeter and just refused to let us shoot 3s,” Lobos coach Mike Bradbury said in a postgame phone interview.
“That’s the way it’s going to be with these two-game series. The second game is going to be totally different from the first one, so I was glad to see our players respond.”
One of Saturday’s biggest sequences came early in the fourth quarter after a Nia Alexander jumper pulled Nevada to within a point at 57-56. On UNM’s next possession, LaTascya Duff drained a 3-pointer from near the top of the key and was fouled on the play. Duff missed the ensuing free throw, but Autumn Watts grabbed the rebound and scored to complete the five-point possession and give the Lobos a 62-56 lead.
“No doubt, that was a huge momentum play,” Bradbury said. “Autumn had the best game of her career, in my opinion. She saved us.”
Watts finished with seven points and a career-best nine rebounds in 29 minutes.
Duff and her twin sister, LaTora, later hit driving baskets during an 8-0 run that put UNM up 72-60 with 2:59 remaining. The Duffs finished with 10 points apiece, with LaTora adding seven rebounds and four assists.
UNM’s offense was relatively quiet Saturday, falling far short of its season averages for points and 3-pointers (99.7 and 13.0, respectively, entering the game). But the Lobos made up for it with aggressive defense, switching from their base man-to-man to a half-court zone in the fourth quarter.
The change appeared to fluster the Wolf Pack during a decisive 15-4 UNM run.
“We’d only used the zone for a few minutes all season,” Bradbury said, “but we wanted to show (the Wolf Pack) something different, and our kids did a great job staying active and rebounding in the zone.”
UNM compensated for its lack of 3-point success by winning the turnover battle 19-8 and scoring 17 points off takeaways to Nevada’s four. The Lobos outrebounded the Wolf Pack 32-31 and scored 46 points in the paint to Nevada’s 32.
All in all, Bradbury was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We had to grind this one out,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how we’d respond to a game like that, when we weren’t hitting 3s and we really had to drive the ball. It’s hard to simulate that in practice but our players found a way. As a coach, that’s always good to see.”
Bradbury said the team would be heading Sunday from Reno to Utah for its next two-game set that begins Thursday – rather than return to its home base in Texas for just a few days. The Lobos have relocated their program out of state because the public health order here has made practice and play impossible.