The New Mexico women’s basketball team played shutdown defense, crashed the boards and leaned on a pair of career-high performances to bring a halt to its four-game losing skid Saturday afternoon.
New Mexico (3-4) played arguably its most complete game of the season, dispatching Southern Methodist (5-3) by a score of 64-49 in the women’s edition of the Pit’s 50th anniversary game.
Head coach Mike Bradbury said it was the hardest the team has played so far. He said the game plan was intricate and the task difficult, but his players executed with precision.
Bradbury also said he appreciated the fans, and they were a big reason why the team was able to achieve success. The crowd came alive as New Mexico got out to a hot start and played smothering defense to lead wire-to-wire.
The Lobos kept the Mustangs out of the paint and off of the free throw line for most of the game, and were also able to limit the damage on its own mistakes.
The game opened up with both teams turning over the ball, but freshman guard Mykiel Burleson put the Lobos on the board first for an early 2-0 lead.
Turnovers have hurt New Mexico, and it had 16 of them for the second consecutive game, but it ended up being a wash as both teams scored 12 points off turnovers.
Lobo junior guard Cherise Beynon was constantly in the passing lanes and took advantage early to put the team up 8-2 in the first quarter. Senior center Richelle van der Keijl stood tall in the paint, grabbing rebounds in traffic and scoring on the blocks.
New Mexico built a 10-point lead after the first quarter, holding SMU to just 11 points in each of the first two quarters en route to a 35-22 halftime advantage.
Van der Keijl seemed to be trending toward another big game, but her time was cut short after picking up her fourth personal foul early in the third quarter.
SMU junior forward Alicia Froling immediately started attacking the paint and the Mustangs had their best scoring quarter. Froling had a team-high 12 points, but never seemed to find a consistent rhythm in the game.
The Lobos answered SMU’s third quarter scoring shot-for-shot and their opponent was never able to get closer than eight points entering the finale frame.
Bradbury said the team maintaining the lead with van der Keijl on the bench showed how locked-in his team was. But he also admitted that, if someone tried to tell him that the Lobos would win the rebounding battle by eight with his star center playing just 17 minutes, he wouldn’t have bought it.
Senior forward Kianna Keller helped fill the void in the paint, collecting 13 big rebounds — also a career high. She also played strong defensively, swatting two shots and altering the trajectory of many others in favor of New Mexico.
Bradbury said the performance is something Keller does on a consistent basis, and her play in the paint was a key to success.
“She’s kind of our quarterback on defense and we expect a lot out of her,” he said. “When we went to the zone, she has to be the best defender — and she was.”
Beynon erupted for a career-high 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting in the game. She struggled to score the ball early in the season, averaging just over six points in the first four games, but has since experienced an offensive explosion, scoring 24 points per game over the last three contests.
“Today, she was the best player in the gym,” Bradbury said. “She deserved today, I’ll put it that way...she deserved this day.”
New Mexico continued to apply the pressure in the fourth quarter. Although SMU got some decent looks from deep late in the game, the Lobos disrupted the Mustangs’ offense and held them to just 10 points in the final frame, en route to the 64-49 final score.
The Lobos will stay home to host Minnesota (5-3) on Tuesday, where the team hopes to even its record on the season. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and will be televised on the Mountain West Network.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.