The Lobos fell into some of the same unfortunate patterns Monday that have plagued them much of the season and went one-and-done at the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas, Nev.
Conference player of the year Jennifer Schlott poured in 29 points to lead eighth-seeded Utah State to a 69-66 victory over the Lobos at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center. Schlott scored 92 points in three games against New Mexico this season – all narrow Aggies wins – and UNM lost a first-round game for the first time in eight years.
The ninth-seeded Lobos took the game down to the wire, possessing the ball down by three points with 22 seconds left. But their final opportunity did not produce much of a shot. Antiesha Brown missed an off-balance 3-point try at the buzzer and UNM’s difficult season ended on a sour note.
“We put ourselves in a tough scenario at the end,” Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez said in postgame phone interview. “We needed a 3-pointer, the timing was off on our execution and it just didn’t happen for us.
“We seemed to be in those kinds of late situations a lot this year when we really shouldn’t have been. We went away from the things we needed to do in the second half and Utah State made us pay.”
Monday’s game played out in an all-too-familiar pattern for the Lobos (11-19) and their fans. UNM played crisp offense and led through the entire first half but gave up a momentum-changing play just before intermission and never really recovered.
Deeva Vaughn, who led New Mexico with 17 points, hit two free throws to give her team a 48-40 lead late in the first half. The 48 points were the most the Lobos scored in a half all season.
Utah State’s Ingrida Strikas then missed the front of a one-and-one with 27 seconds left, but USU ran down the rebound. Schlott dribbled away most of the remaining time, penetrated and passed to Mackenlee Williams in the corner.
Williams hit a 3-pointer while being fouled by UNM’s Bryce Owens, then swished the ensuing free throw with two seconds to play. The Aggies trailed just 48-44 at the break.
“That was huge for us,” Utah State’s Stephanie Bairstow said in postgame news conference. “We were a little down on momentum and that gave us a good feeling going to the half. We came out in the second half with that good feeling.”
Sanchez also saw the play as a turning point.
“First, we didn’t box out on the missed free throw,” she said. “Then, you just don’t foul on a shot like that. If she hits the 3, she hits it. You can’t foul that.”
UNM led 52-49 early in the second half but went five minutes without scoring. The Lobos turned the ball over four times during the drought, and a Bairstow 3 helped USU grab a 58-52 lead.
Bairstow, the younger sister of Lobo men’s player Cameron Bairstow, matched a career high with 16 points for USU (15-15).
“We did so many good things getting the ball inside in the first half,” Sanchez said, “then we started throwing poor passes and settling for jump shots.”