By George Hronich
For Enchantment Sports
The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team used two strong defensive stretches to pull away for a 74-56 victory over the Utah State Aggies on Wednesday night in Dreamstyle Arena — The Pit.The Lobos got out of the gate fast, scoring the first five points in the opening minute. Utah State responded by scoring the next 10. A problem for UNM in conference has been giving up too many offensive rebounds, and in the opening half, the trend continued as the Aggies hit the glass for six offensive rebounds in the first quarter. Utah State was also passing the ball well and getting some open shots to take a six point lead at 14-8. Sophomores Antonia Anderson and Jaedyn de la Cerda came off the bench to spark the Lobos offensively, with Anderson scoring five points and de la Cerda six on two treys to put the Lobos back on top 18-16. Utah State again answered, scoring the last five points of the quarter to take a five point lead into the second quarter.
Both teams started the second period cold. Senior post Jaisa Nunn was whistled for her second foul early in the quarter and went to the bench for the remainder of the half. Freshman Shai McGruder replaced Nunn on the floor and, as she has done several times this year, stepped into the passing lane and went coast to coast for the layup, sparking a strong defensive stretch for UNM. New Mexico (21-4, 11-3) would go on an 18-7 run to take a seven point lead. Rachel Brewster got a hot hand to keep the Aggies (11-14, 6-8) close, scoring twelve first half points. Utah State was also still controlling the boards behind Shannon Dufficy, who had nine first half rebounds. The Lobos usually have a hard time offensively with Nunn in foul trouble, but Wednesday night, the Lobos were getting good movement and balanced scoring with several players making contributions and went into the half with a 38-34 lead.
The Lobos came out of the locker room cold, while Brewster kept hitting jumpers for the Aggies. Utah State would score the first nine points of the half to take the lead. Three and a half minutes into the quarter, Nunn would break the drought with a three-point play. The teams would trade buckets and Utah State had a 48-47 lead at the media time out with four minutes left in the quarter. During the time out, UNM coach Mike Bradbury made an adjustment on defense to have better rotations. The defense tightened up, New Mexico started hitting the boards better, and the Lobos would finish the third with an 8-3 run to take a 55-50 lead into the final period.
The defensive intensity would continue into the fourth quarter. Lobo defenders were closing out better on outside shots and inside Nunn, Anderson, and Nike McClure did not allow easy looks inside. With Anderson making her jump shots, Nunn was able to get a little more free inside and started scoring more. UNM went on a 15-0 run to take a 20-point lead with about two-and-a-half minutes left in the game. Utah State did not score for about six minutes during the Lobo run, and only scored six points in the fourth quarter. The Lobos also controlled the glass in the last period, out rebounding the feisty Aggies by 10 to come back and win the rebounding battle by four for the game.
Despite missing a lot of the second and third quarters in foul trouble, with a strong finish Nunn again led the Lobos in scoring with 15. The sophomores who sparked the first half scoring for the Lobos also scored in double figures; de la Cerda with 14, including going 4-8 behind the arc, and Anderson 13 points to go along with 7 rebounds in another strong performance. Aisia Robertson and Jayla Everett scored 12 each to give UNM five double-figure scorers in the contest. Robertson also dished out nine assists, grabbed four rebounds and had four steals. Everett also had four assists and four rebounds. Ahlise Hurst, playing on a sore ankle, also had four assists. McGruder added five points and five rebounds in her 12 minutes and again provided an energetic spark.
New Mexico stays in a second place tie in the loss column with Wyoming, two games behind first place Boise State, who had a bye this week and did not play Wednesday. Wyoming won in Las Vegas to keep pace with UNM. Fresno State beat Air Force to stay a game behind the Lobos and Cowgirls. New Mexico has a bye Saturday and returns to the Pit next Wednesday as San Jose St. comes to New Mexico.
George Hronich, a longtime fan and close follower of the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, is covering the squad this season for Enchantment Sports. If you have any feedback, tips or story ideas for George, please email him at EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.