The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team had to find a different way to skin a Cougar on Saturday.
Amaya Brown brought just the right template.
Brown made the most of her first official collegiate game at the Pit, racking up 16 points, 11 rebounds and playing lockdown defense in the Lobos’ gritty 68-61 victory over Houston. Brown, an Albuquerque native who joined the Lobos as a senior transfer from Florida State, set career highs for points and rebounds — and UNM needed all of them to improve its record to 1-1.
With 3-point shots not falling (the Lobos were 2-for-20) and the visiting Cougars causing havoc with their relentless press, UNM prevailed by attacking the basket, earning repeated trips to the free-throw line, and tightening the screws on the visitors with stout half-court defense.
“I’m proud of our bunch for being tough enough to play against a team like that,” Lobos coach Mike Bradbury said. “We talked about it all week, that if you play soft or retreat against Houston, they’ll just take it from you. If you attack and are aggressive, you’ll draw fouls. I thought we did a good job of attacking.”
No one more so than Brown, who went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the second half. She had four points and a key steal during a 10-0 UNM run in the third quarter — one that came immediately after the Cougars had scored 10 straight to take a 42-21 lead.
“We knew they were a tough, physical team,” Brown said. “We told ourselves we have to be tougher. I actually love games like this. That was a lot of fun.”
Bradbury smiled when asked about Brown’s performance.
“That’s the version of Amaya Brown we’re going to need all season,” he said. “Elite defender, finds a way to score and grabs some big rebounds. Amaya was great.”
LaTora Duff added 14 points and seven assists for the Lobos, while Shaiquel McGruder battled the Cougars’ taller front line to finish with 11 points, eight rebounds and three steals. McGruder also surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for her career and now has 1,006.
“I really haven’t thought about it,” McGruder said, “but it’s exciting. The only focus today was to bounce back and get a win.”
UNM put a couple of unpleasant memories to rest with Saturday’s win in front of an announced 4,568 fans. The Lobos shook off Monday’s season-opening 76-68 loss at Southern Utah, and got a measure of redemption for last season’s unsightly 89-60 loss road loss at Houston. The Lobos turned the ball over 34 times in the latter outing and suffered their most lopsided loss of the year.
Saturday’s bounce-back effort wasn’t always artistic. In addition to its cold perimeter shooting, UNM committed 23 turnovers against Houston’s press.
But this time the Lobos had an answer. They limited the Cougars to 28% shooting (3-for-30 from 3-point range) and forced 18 turnovers of their own. New Mexico also outrebounded Houston 50-47 after getting roughed up on the boards against Southern Utah.
The Lobos led nearly all the way Saturday but never by a comfortable margin. UNM was up 28-25 at halftime and 51-44 after a wild third quarter that featured 10-point runs by both teams.
Houston (0-2), which got 20 points and 11 rebounds from post Tatyana Hill, trailed just 65-61 after two Laila Blair free throws with 33 seconds left. But McGruder then hit one of two foul shots, UNM’s defense got a stop, and LaTascya Duff hit two more free throws with 15 seconds remaining to clinch it.
UNM did considerable damage from the foul line, finishing 24-of-29 overall and 21-of-22 in the second half. Houston was 12-of-13 from the line.
Box score: UNM 68, Houston 61
New Mexico at New Mexico State, 6 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM