Opening night was not a gala event for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team.
Five ugly minutes effectively spoiled it.
After leading for most of the first half, the Lobos lost their shooting strokes and were badly outplayed in the opening minutes of the second half, leading to a 76-68 loss to Southern Utah in Cedar City, Utah.
Sparked by LaTascya Duff’s 17 first-half points, New Mexico led 41-36 at intermission. But Duff managed just three points in the second half, and freshman Jaelyn Bates was the only Lobo able to pick up any of the scoring slack.
Bates, forced into extended minutes when starting point guard LaTora Duff got into foul trouble, scored 13 points and dished out four assists in her collegiate debut.
UNM shot just 38.5 percent overall and was 10-of-39 from 3-point range despite numerous open looks. The much taller Thunderbirds shot 47.7% and clobbered the Lobos on the boards (54-32).
Post Lizzy Williamson amassed 19 points and 13 rebounds, hitting 9 of 10 from the field for SUU. She was the catalyst for the Thunderbirds’ 16-2 run to start the second half, scoring eight points on short open jumpers and put-backs.
“Those first five or six minutes of the third quarter were so bad, they just killed us,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said in a postgame phone interview. “Generally, I thought we played pretty good defense and our offense was choppy but not terrible — except for those five or six minutes.”
UNM was largely unable to get its transition game rolling and never found much of an offensive rhythm in its first-ever game in Cedar City. Still, the visitors did enough to come away with a lead after a back-and-forth first half.
After SUU grabbed a 23-19 lead, Bates and LaTascya Duff drained 3-pointers and Shaiquel McGruder scored twice inside during a 12-4 surge that gave the Lobos a 31-25 edge.
Paula Reus later netted a 3 — her only basket of the game — to give UNM a 41-34 advantage.
The second half was a different story. UNM missed several open shots early, LaTora Duff went to the bench with her third foul, and the Thunderbirds quickly turned the momentum their way. The Lobos trailed 61-55 after three quarters and stayed within striking distance until the final two minutes but simply could not hit enough shots to make a sustained run.
“We missed four wide-open 3s and two layups at the start of the third quarter,” Bradbury said, “but we’ve got to show enough toughness not to let it affect us on the defensive end. That should have been a 7-0 run, not 16-2. Now we’ve got to learn from this and be resilient.”
McGruder and LaTora Duff finished with 13 points apiece for the Lobos. Tomika Whitman scored 20 to pace SUU.
Women: Houston at UNM, 2 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM, themw.com (streaming)