Lobo women beat Fresno State, 82-73, sit atop MWC
ALBUQUERQUE — Turns out that one of the biggest wins of the season was actually a loss.
University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury pointed to the team’s stumble at UNLV nearly a month ago as the point where his players acquired the focus that has carried them to the top of the Mountain West Conference race and the cusp of a national ranking.
The Lobos showed that focus in droves in the final three-plus quarters of Saturday afternoon’s game in The Pit against visiting Fresno State. They withstood a pair of late-game rallies and made off with an 82-73 victory that left them in a tie with Boise State atop the league standings, two games clear of everyone else.
Five Lobos finished in double figures, including a game-high 23 points and 13 rebounds from senior center Jaisa Nunn and 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting from senior power forward Nike McClure.
Both of them echoed Bradbury’s assessment that the team hasn’t had a bad day on the court since returning from Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 9.
“He’s right, every single practice after that game has been hard, it’s been fast and it’s been really good in trying to prepare us for games,” Nunn said.
The fans are catching on, too. Saturday’s game drew 8,068 people, the largest for a women’s game in The Pit in four years. The crowd got what they came for early on when the Lobos used a 15-0 run in the first quarter to storm into a lead they never gave back, then an 11-2 spurt to close the third quarter to again take a double-digit lead.
The last run was a 9-2 sprint to the final buzzer. It started with a Jayla Everett 3-pointer with two minutes left and closed with reliable shooting from the line.
At 18-2 overall and 8-1 in the MWC, UNM entered the game just two spots out of the Top 25 poll in the coaches’ rankings. As the season has gone on, the crowds have grown, the chemistry has improved and the excitement has started to blossom to levels not seen in the women’s program in a few years.
Bradbury said such conditions might make it difficult to harness the attention of the players, but not this team. That loss nearly four weeks ago was just what the team needed to feel humble, he said.
“I’m telling you, the only thing I’m worried about is Monday afternoon,” he said, looking ahead to the team’s next practice. “And that’s it. I know that’s cliché and that’s not the answers you want to have and all that, but I’m telling you — we keep our heads down ever since we got back from UNLV.”
While the final box score from Saturday’s game suggests otherwise, UNM did do a good job against arguably the conference’s best player. Fresno State guard Candice White was leading the league in scoring through the first half of the season, but had just six points at halftime.
She finished with 22, erupting for 16 in the second half to keep the Bulldogs (13-7, 6-3) in it, but when she went to the bench to catch her breath at the end of the third quarter, the Lobos jumped on the gas and pulled away.
Fresno State stayed relatively close by hitting 11 3-pointers and holding a slight rebounding edge, but the balanced scoring from New Mexico was more than enough. Antonia Anderson came off the bench to score 11 points for Everett had 12 and Ahlise Hurst 10 while playing a team-high 38 minutes — most of them chasing White around.
As well as the team is playing, the Lobos admitted it’s even easier to find energy when the crowds swell like they did Saturday.
“When the fans are coming like that you know you’ve got something going on that’s worth watching, so that’s really boosting our confidence,” McClure said. “Empty stands mean something, too, and thankfully we’re not there.”
The Lobos honored a number of former players, some from the program’s roots in the 1970s. Among them was former Pojoaque Valley star and Lobos guard Cristal Garcia. When her name was announced, she drew one of the largest ovations of the two dozen players introduced during the halftime ceremony. … The Lobos had just 12 turnovers, half of them attributed to point guard Aisia Robertson. She also had five assists and nine points, although she took 14 shots. … Fresno State’s Maddi Utti had a double-double with
15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Wednesday: New Mexico (18-2, 8-1 MWC) at San Diego State (7-12, 2-6), noon at Viejas Arena in San Diego, Calif.
Radio: KNML-AM 610
Live stats: www.GoLobos.com