New cast of characters, familiar theme.
The UNLV women’s basketball team turned Friday’s game against visiting New Mexico into a physical battle in the second half and won convincingly. The Lady Rebels dominated the paint, wore a path to the foul line and earned a 78-60 victory at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Minnesota transfer Delaynie Byrne scored a game-high 21 points for UNLV, while LaTascya Duff paced the Lobos with 17.
UNM led by as many as 14 points in the first half and held a 43-35 lead at intermission. But the Lobos (5-1, 2-1 Mountain West) went cold from the perimeter in the second half, and they were no match for UNLV (5-5, 3-2) inside.
The Rebels, who have a new coach (Lindy La Rocque) and just two returning players, finished with a 54-38 advantage on the boards and scored 19 second-chance points. UNLV has relied largely on physical play to win eight of its last 10 meetings with UNM.
Fouls were another major factor Friday. UNM was whistled for 23 and had two players (Antonia Anderson and Autumn Watts) foul out. The Rebels, who were called for just seven fouls, went 15-for-22 from the free-throw line, The Lobos were 3-for-5.
The foul disparity was telling but not a matter of one-sided officiating, UNM coach Mike Bradbury said.
“The more aggressive team gets rewarded,” Bradbury said in a postgame phone interview. “We weren’t aggressive enough, got beat to our spots and fouled way too much. I thought the officials called a good game.”
The Lobos, who came into the game leading the nation in scoring at 95.4 points per game, managed just 17 in Friday’s second half and did not score for the game’s final 6:45. The flat finish came after a strong first half in which UNM hit 10 3-pointers and briefly appeared poised to run away from the Rebels.
“The first 15 minutes we played really hard,” Bradbury said. “We were aggressive, followed the plan and got defensive stops. For the last 25 minutes, for whatever reason, everything dropped off.”
UNM raced to a 21-7 lead and held a double-digit advantage for most of the second quarter. Back-to-back 3s by Duff gave the Lobos a 43-31 advantage with less than a minute left.
But the Lobos’ last two possessions ended with a missed layup and a bad turnover cashed in by Keyana Wilfred’s fastbreak layup. The quick four points gave UNLV a boost going into halftime and the hosts quickly built on it in the third quarter.
Byrne and Nia Johnson hit 3-pointers during a 12-4 run that tied the score at 47 with 4:15 left. The Rebels led 57-56 by quarter’s end and they steadily pulled away in the fourth.
UNM’s starters had a rough second half, managing just eight combined points. Ahlise Hurst finished with 14 points for the Lobos but scored just two after halftime. Jaedyn De La Cerda had a season-low four points on 2-for-11 shooting.
Friday’s game was the Lobos’ first in 13 days after they spent last week in COVID-19 quarantine, but Bradbury dismissed any impact the break may have had.
“No excuses,” he said. “All of us, coaches included, have to be better.”
The teams meet again Sunday at 3 p.m. to conclude the two-game series.