UNM women rally past rival NMSU - Albuquerque Journal

UNM women rally past rival NMSU

LAS CRUCES — Turns out the Lobos were never out of it.

After trailing for more than 33 minutes and by as many as 16 points, the University of New Mexico Lobos lit up the Pan American Center for seven-plus minutes Sunday afternoon. LaTora Duff scored 24 points in a remarkable 40-minute performance and helped spark UNM to a stunning 73-66 victory over host New Mexico State.

How unlikely was it?

The Lobos (8-3) trailed 61-48 with eight minutes left and had struggled all day both to score and to slow down NMSU post Bigue Sarr. They never entirely managed the latter as Sarr racked up 28 points and 12 rebounds.

But New Mexico’s offense caught fire down the stretch. LaTascya and LaTora Duff and Shaiquel McGruder combined for four 3-pointers during a 25-5 surge that turned an apparent defeat into UNM’s eighth straight win in the Rio Grande Rivalry.

“I definitely didn’t want to lose my last game against New Mexico State,” said senior Antonia Anderson, who posted a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. “Give credit to (the Aggies), they hit shots and played really hard. I think this just shows the fight our team has.”

No one played a bigger role than LaTora Duff, who seemed unlikely to play at all just two days earlier. She took an inadvertent elbow to the face during UNM’s 77-58 win over the Aggies on Friday at the Pit. She sat out the second half, holding an ice bag to her face.

LaTora Duff showed up for warmups sporting a facemask Sunday and promptly put on a show. She finished with 24 points, four rebounds, five assists, two steals and three turnovers in a complete-game performance.

“I found out (Saturday) I’d be able to play,” LaTora said. “I told (coach Mike Bradbury) I could go however long he needed me. I hated the mask. I couldn’t really see or breathe right, but I just kept going. It didn’t bother my game too much.”

It took the Lobos quite a while to find a successful formula as they struggled with turnovers and cold shooting, much of it caused by New Mexico State’s aggressive half-court defense.

Meanwhile, the Aggies (3-4) looked much more locked in than they had in Albuquerque. NMSU went 1-for-9 from 3-point range in the Pit but hit 5-of-9 in Sunday’s first half. Taylor Donaldson and Fama Thiem buried back-to-back 3’s in the second quarter to give the home team a 30-19 lead.

“They were hitting shots and they were really determined to chase us off the 3-point line,” Bradbury said of the Aggies. “We just had to find a way to stay close until we could hit two or three shots and put a run together.”

Freshman Paula Reus, who had her best outing as a Lobo (six points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks) helped spark a brief run that trimmed NMSU’s lead to 39-32 by halftime. But the Aggies quickly rebuilt their lead in the third, dumping the ball inside to Sarr, who often scored on offensive rebounds when she couldn’t get open in the paint.

But after trailing by as many as 16 points, UNM turned the tables. Going with three posts (McGruder, Anderson and Reus), the Lobos started getting defensive stops, picked up the pace and simply caught fire.

A floater by Anderson capped a 15-2 run to tie the score at 63 with 3:54 left. After a Sarr free throw, McGruder followed up a go-ahead layup with an open 3-pointer. The stunned Aggies never seemed to recover.

“Tora was outstanding,” Bradbury said. “Really, the whole group we had out there in the fourth quarter was outstanding. We almost pulled off a comeback like this against Stephen F. Austin and this time we finished it. Great resilience by this group.”

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