ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rebels’ top scorer kept in check with only 7 points
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – On Jan. 9, UNLV beat the New Mexico Lobos, 68-57, behind Kelli Thompson’s 21 points.
On Feb. 9 in the Pit, the result was the same with the Lady Rebels knocking off the Lobos, 58-57, behind Thompson’s 29-point outburst.
On Thursday, none of that mattered.
Mountain West semifinal: No. 5 New Mexico vs. No 1 San Diego State1 p.m.MTRadio: 610 AM
No. 5 New Mexico used an inspired defensive effort to hold Thompson, the Mountain West scoring champion, to seven points on 2-of-14 shooting and knock off No. 4 UNLV 72-59 in front of a Cherry and Silver-heavy crowd of 5,285 in the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Selective memory,” UNM head coach Yvonne Sanchez said, flashing a big smile. “I mean, it’s Season 3. Season 3 it’s a three-game race, and everyone is 0-0 in Season 3.”
While “selective memory” may explain why the Lobos were so confident playing a Rebel team that swept them in the regular season, it doesn’t explain how they were able to change their fortunes by shutting down Thompson, a senior who may now be headed to the WNBA.
“It’s not easy guarding Kelli Thompson for 40 minutes,” Sanchez said. “We did it by committee. They did a terrific job. They went in there and played their hearts out.”
The effort allows UNM (17-13) to play No. 1 San Diego State in today’s semifinal at 1 p.m.
Several Lobos took their turns guarding Thompson on Thursday, but credit Clovis native Antiesha Brown for the lion’s share of the tall task. In addition to Brown’s 21 points in 22 minutes off the bench, including 10-of-10 from the free-throw line, the Texas Tech transfer also had the primary assignment of trying to slow Thompson.
“Basically my defensive assignment for this game was to shut her down,” said Brown. “We played a denial defense. No help responsibilities. I take a lot of pride in my defense, so I think coach made a good decision with who she put on Kelli. … Everybody who had their fair share of guarding Kelli Thompson did a great job.”
While the Lobos were all smiles after Thursday’s win, things weren’t looking good early for them.
UNLV (12-19) jumped out to a 19-8 lead on a Réjane Verin layup with 10:58 remaining in the game before the Lobos “got rid of the jitters,” Sanchez said.
UNM’s defense held the Rebels without a field goal over the next 10:03 and turned the 11-point deficit into a 30-24 lead at the break thanks to a pair of Caroline Durbin 3-pointers in the final 36 seconds of the first half.
“It just got us on a roll I think for the second half,” said Durbin. “It gave people confidence to shoot (in the second half), including myself.”
Her 3-pointer with 4 seconds left in the first half gave Durbin 10 points for the half and 1,000 career points at UNM. She ended up with 17 points (1,007 for her career), joining Brown (21), Deeva Vaughn (12) and Sara Halasz (13) as the four Lobos scoring in double figures. Vaughn added 11 rebounds.
UNLV was led by Verin’s 19 points and nine rebounds, but shot just 35.7 percent in the game and had 20 turnovers.
In the second half, the Lobos continued to amp up their defense, leading by as many as 13 points with 6:50 remaining, but did allow the Rebels to use a late 10-0 run that cut the lead to 60-57 with 1:46 remaining.
From that point on, UNM closed the game on a 12-2 run, powered by seven points from Brown.
All the while Brown was icing the game at the charity stripe, Lobos fans in the stands were again making everyone forget the game was being playing in the home city of their opponent.
“I’m pretty sure if they played in Alaska they’d have 4(000) to 5,000 fans there,” Thompson said. “That’s what they do.”
Those fans, and much more, will be needed for today’s semifinal against an SDSU team that beat UNM by an average of 26 points in two regular-season games.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal