Three games. Three days. Three wins.
The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team made 18 shots from beyond the arc and willed its way to a 97-68 victory over Illinois on Sunday at Dreamstyle Arena — giving the Lobos the Thanksgiving Tournament sweep, while also improving to an unblemished 7-0 record so far this season.
The 18 made shots from long range marked a new single-game school record, surpassing the previous mark of 15.
Senior guard Tesha Buck, who was voted by media and the participating programs as the tournament MVP, scored a game-high 21 points, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists. But Buck was deadly from the outside, hitting 5-of-7 shots from 3-point land.
It wasn’t only Buck though — senior guard Alex Lapeyrolerie was prolific from beyond the arc as well. Of Lapeyrolerie’s 20 points, six of her seven shots were made from beyond the arc, which tied her career-best performance, matching her mark of six made 3-pointers last season against Fairleigh Dickinson.
The UNM women's basketball sideline erupts after a late game 3-pointer by Emily Lines, No. 11, at Dreamstyle Arena, Nov. 26, 2017. The Lobos defeated the University of Illinois Fighting Illini during the UNM Thanksgiving Tournament championship game, 97-68.
“Obviously that doesn’t happen very often,” head coach Mike Bradbury said of his team setting a new single-game school record for 3-pointers made. “I mean it seemed like we made them all...Tesha (Buck) got us going and hit a bunch early, then Alex (Lapeyrolerie) strung a bunch together and then next thing you know everybody is throwing them in.”
Early on, things didn’t bode well for UNM. Illinois (5-3) seemed to have an answer for junior post Jaisa Nunn in the first half, as they held her to zero points in that frame.
Buck said that the reason the team made a lot of shots from beyond the arc was due in part to Nunn garnering so much attention down in the post, where she couldn’t get off any clean shots.
“They were just pounding Jaisa down there,” Buck said. “It really took a lot of pressure off of us and left us wide open, so Jaisa is the reason we got half of our shots from outside.”
Illinois and New Mexico traded shots in the first quarter, but the Fighting Illini got the better end of the stick. The away team was also better on the boards in the frame, too, bringing down seven offensive rebounds.
Those struggles for UNM helped Illinois get out to an eight-point lead with a little under a minute in the first quarter, but a Buck jumper brought the Lobos within six, 19-13, by the quarter’s end.
In the second quarter, though, the Lobos made their presence known — and especially from beyond the arc. In the frame, Buck nailed three of her five 3-pointers, while Lapeyrolerie, senior guard Cherise Beynon and freshman guard N’Dea Flye each hit one, too, giving them six total in the quarter.
A Beynon 3-pointer tied the game up at 24 points apiece, and from there the Lobos outscored the Illini 10-5 in the remaining minutes before the half, ultimately giving them a 34-29 halftime lead.
The Lobos quickly picked up where they left off coming out of halftime, with Buck nailing a 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the third quarter.
Flye and Nunn led the way in the third, as they both scored eight points in the frame. Eventually, the Lobos half court press sent shockwaves down Illinois’ spine, and the Lobos started capitalizing on their mistakes. UNM used the momentum to jump out to a 64-49 lead at the end of the third quarter.
It was in the fourth though, that UNM’s defense was really on point. It held the Illini to just four points in the first six minutes of the final period of play, allowing the Lobos to keep adding to their lead.
The Lobos nailed seven of their 18 3-pointers in the fourth quarter alone, with Lapeyrolerie contributing three of those in the frame.
At one point, UNM pushed the lead up to 35 points, but the Illini made some shots near the end to narrow the margin to 29 points, 97-68.
The sudden resurgence of energy for the Lobosv, Bradbury said, was due in part to the fans, especially in the second half.
“The second half crowd was unbelievable,” he said. “It was very similar to the Marquette game. And it’s just a huge advantage for us to have the greatest fans in the country — and they show up every day.”
Though UNM handled Illinois, especially in the second half, its opponent posed some threats of their own. Sophomore guard Brandi Beasley, who had a team-high 15 points for the Illini, was voted onto the All-Tournament team.
The Illini outrebounded UNM 41-36, though it didn’t matter much.
UNM, with its stout defensive efforts, managed to force 23 Illinois turnovers, which translated into 26 points.
Besides Buck — the MVP — two other Lobos were nominated onto the All-Tournament team. Both Nunn and Lapeyrolerie were named to it, while Wichita State senior forward Rangie Bessard made the team, too.
Up next for UNM is their first road trip of the season, as they head to El Paso, Texas to take on UTEP on Thursday, Nov. 30 at 5:30 p.m.
Matthew Narvaiz is a senior sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s and women’s basketball and baseball. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.