Thursday night was all about rising to an unexpected challenge.
Short two of its season-long starters, the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team put together a spirited effort and extended its season with a 72-64 win over Northern Arizona in a WNIT first-round contest at the Pit.
Shaiquel McGruder posted a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Amaya Brown came close (15 points, 8 boards) as the Lobos moved on to a second-round matchup against Washington, which defeated San Francisco on Thursday night. The time and site had not been announced at press time.
“We still want to play,” Brown said. “We didn’t like the way it ended at the Mountain West tournament, so we’re doing our best to keep it going.”
The Lobos needed and got contributions from some seldom-used bench players after twins LaTascya and LaTora Duff told coach Mike Bradbury they were opting out of the WNIT on Thursday morning. The Duffs started 31 of UNM’s previous 32 games this season.
Bradbury and his players declined to take questions about the Duffs’ decision after the game. UNM released a statement via social media and Bradbury briefly addressed their decision earlier Thursday. The twins did not respond to outreach via social media for comment. LaTascya Duff tweeted Thursday, “Thank you lobo nation” with a series of photos.
“Tay and Tora have been great players and great members of this team,” Bradbury said. “We appreciate everything they’ve done for the program. I can’t speak to their decision (to opt out) but we certainly wish them all the best.”
Without the Duffs, the remaining Lobos and a small but boisterous crowd of 1,529 hit Northern Arizona with an impressive amount of energy.
“It was huge,” McGruder said. “The bench showed up and showed out, everyone was into it. We didn’t want this to be our last game.”
Aniyah Augmon and Paula Reus started in place of the Duffs and combined for 17 points. But UNM also got solid performances from Nia Johnson, Jaelyn Bates and Kath van Bennekom, who combined for 16 points while exceeding their usual minutes.
“Those three can play,” Bradbury said. “We’d basically gone with seven starters playing equal minutes throughout the year and it’s tough to get everyone minutes. But those bench players are talented and they made the most of their opportunity.”
The Lobos (21-12) did make adjustments without the Duff twins, attacking the basket often and taking fewer 3-point shots than normal. The plan worked to the benefit of Brown, McGruder, Augmon and Johnson, who capitalized on drives as the Lobos held a narrow lead through most of the first half.
UNM led 32-29 at the half as the Lumberjacks (21-14) effectively traded baskets with the Lobos. Emily Rodabaugh (19 points) and Nyah Moran (15) seemed to hit shots whenever the Lobos threatened to build a lead.
The Lumberjacks (21-14) used a 6-0 run to grab a 48-47 lead with 3:01 left in the third quarter, but UNM responded. McGruder completed a three-point play, assisted on a van Bennekom basket and beat the buzzer with a driving layup to give the Lobos a 55-50 lead at quarter’s end.
The Lobos finally gained some separation in the fourth quarter, building a 70-55 advantage on a 15-foot Brown jumper.
“Amaya Brown clearly showed tonight that she still wants to play basketball,” Bradbury said. “We all wanted to be here, we all wanted to win and we want to win the next one, too.”