The ending didn’t do this one justice.
The University of New Mexico and UNLV women’s basketball teams battled, scratched and clawed through 39-plus intense minutes in Thursday night’s Mountain West showdown in Las Vegas, Nevada. The game was tied at 79 with less than a minute to play.
After 10-plus bizarre minutes of officiating reviews and controversial decisions, the Rebels came away with an 85-79 win.
The outcome threw the MWC’s regular-season race into a tie with nine games remaining. The Lobos (17-5 overall) and Rebels (16-4) are both 8-1 in league play and split their regular-season meetings. Nevada is in third place at 5-2.
Thursday’s finish also brought an end to UNM’s nine-game winning streak and its best-ever start to conference play. This, after the Lobos reeled off eight straight points to even the score on Paula Reus’s layup with 57 seconds left.
That’s when things got weird.
UNLV’s Desi-Rae Young grabbed an offensive rebound and scored while being fouled with 32 seconds left to give her team the lead. Young turned around and knocked UNM’s LaTascya Duff backward with a chest bump and was whistled for a technical foul.
After a lengthy review, officials told head coaches Mike Bradbury (UNM) and Lindy La Rocque (UNLV) that Young would have one free throw before the Lobos received two technical foul shots and possession of the ball.
“They called the technical, went to the monitor, confirmed the call, then went back to the monitor,” Bradbury said in a postgame phone interview.
Several minutes later, after meeting with the coaches again, the officials ruled a double technical on Young and Duff, who appeared to push away as she was being chest-bumped. La Rocque pumped her fist after hearing the changed call. Bradbury declined to comment on the change.
Young missed her long-awaited free throw, giving UNM possession trailing 81-79. UNM attempted to get Duff open for a 3-pointer but she was cut off and passed to Reus near the sideline. Several seconds later, the Rebels knocked the ball loose for a steal that Bradbury did not believe should have happened.
“UNLV sniffed out our play and (Duff) wasn’t open,” he said. “When she passed the ball to Paula, I called timeout with seven seconds left. The timeout wasn’t granted and that was pretty much it.”
UNM was forced to foul, Bradbury picked up a technical and, after another lengthy review, the Rebels hit four straight foul shots to account for the final score.
Prior to the final 30 seconds, Thursday’s game was every bit the first-place showdown both teams and fans had anticipated. The lead changed hands 11 times and there were eight ties in the high-scoring, back-and-forth affair.
Shaiquel McGruder scored 27 points for the Lobos, including six straight as UNM rallied from a 79-71 deficit to tie in the final minute. Essence Booker scored a career-high 31 points for the Rebels.
“Great game,” Bradbury said. “Two good teams that were really competing. It was exactly the kind of game I expected until the very end.”
LaTora Duff finished with 17 points and five assists, while Reus chipped in 13 points for the Lobos. Oddly, UNM outscored the Rebels 48-38 in the paint, but UNLV hit nine 3-pointers to the Lobos’ seven. Alyssa Durazo-Frescas went 4-for-7 from long range and scored 15 points for UNLV.
Women: UNM at San Diego State, 1 p.m., Lobo Radio Network, themw.com (streaming)