The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team picked up right where they left off before the Thanksgiving holiday — with a win.
The team moved to a perfect 5-0 record on the season after defeating a capable Wichita State team, 76-62, on Friday evening at Dreamstyle Arena.
The start is the best for UNM since the 2012-13 season, when the Lobos also began 5-0. But still have a way to go to match the record for most wins to open a season, which was set during the 1996-97 campaign, when the team started out 9-0 on the season.
But the win wasn’t a cakewalk for the Lobos. In fact, the Shockers — who started out 0-4 before Friday’s contest against the Lobos — were a tough opponent in spite of what their record showed, according to head coach Mike Bradbury.
“Wichita State is talented,” Bradbury said. “Clearly well coached...and they were every bit of that tonight.”
UNM was led in scoring by senior guard Cherise Beynon, who had a game high 23 points to go alongside seven rebounds and five assists.
Although Beynon’s performance could be viewed as stellar, senior guard Alex Lapeyrolerie put up an impressive performance herself. In 28 minutes on the court, Lapeyrolerie scored 15 points, while shooting 5-of-10 from beyond the arc — one 3-pointer shy of her career-best six made 3s against Fairleigh Dickinson.
“I (felt) pretty good,” Lapeyrolerie said. “I (felt) very comfortable and in rhythm, and that’s something I have to thank my teammates and my coaching staff for, for helping me getting back into that rhythm of no hesitation and just letting that thing go.”
The Shockers opened up the game on a layup from senior forward Angiee Tompkins, but Lapeyrolerie answered back with a 3-pointer for the Lobos.
Again, Wichita State went up on a 3-pointer from senior guard Jeliah Preston, but UNM found their groove shortly after. The Lobos, with the help of another Lapeyrolerie shot from deep and one from Beynon, had them up 15-7 nearly four minutes into the game.
Wichita State brought the game within four points at 15-11, but UNM managed to go on a 6-0 run capped by a layup from freshman guard Madi Washington, which put the team up by 10 points with under three minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Lobos still owned a nine point lead by the end of the first quarter, 24-15.
Early in the second quarter, however, it seemed as if the Shockers were ready to make a comeback. In the first four minutes of the frame, the Shockers outscored the Lobos 12-3, eventually tying the game up at 27 points apiece.
But then the Lobos responded with a 7-0 run of their own, which started with the help of a Beynon layup to set things in motion.
UNM continued to ride the momentum and jump out to a 40-31 halftime lead.
The Lobos extended the lead to 11 points in the opening moments of the second half on a Beynon layup and were able to go on another run to stretch things to a 17 point bulge after Antonia Anderson made a layup midway through the third quarter.
Wichita State was able to cut the lead to a dozen on a couple of occasions, but a Lapeyrolerie 3-pointer had the Lobos up 57-42 with a little less than three minutes to play in the third quarter.
But the Shockers put together a 7-0 run to close out the quarter and bring them back within eight points, making it 57-49 to enter the final quarter.
Wichita State got a layup from senior forward Rangie Bessard to start the scoring in the fourth quarter and pull within six points of the Lobos.
New Mexico showed poise though, never shying away and slowly inching away from its opponent in the final frame. By the final horn, the Lobos had built the lead back up to 14 points, taking a 76-62 decision on their home court over Wichita State.
Bessard, who gave the Lobos a lot of problems down low, finished with a team-high 16 points, though she only had four rebounds.
Bradbury praised Bessard's efforts, saying that preparing to face a player like her is never easy, and — in some ways — impossible.
“She’s legit,” Bradbury said of Bessard. “I didn’t like anything I saw on film that was gonna be in our favor. And you can ask Alex (Lapeyrolerie), we’ve spent a lot of time talking about her, and she still got us for 16, so, you know, she’s really good.”
Though Bessard gave UNM a tough time on offense, the Lobos always seemed to be one step ahead. As a team, UNM shot 43.9 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from 3-point land, compared to 38.8 percent for Wichita State.
New Mexico had four players finish with double-digit scoring performances. In addition to Lapeyrolerie and Beynon, senior guard Tesha Buck finished with 14 points and junior post Jaisa Nunn had 13.
For Wichita State, junior forward Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, who hails from Santa Fe High School, finished with 10 points to join Bessard in double figures.
UNM made 12 3-pointers in the game, marking their best performance from deep since 2011, when they sunk 14 from beyond the arc against TCU. The Lobos took 34 of their 66 shots from the 3-point line and, according to Bradbury, that’s just how things went.
“Out of 34 3s, we probably took three bad ones,” Bradbury said. “And, you know, that’s pretty good. Some nights they go in, some nights they don’t. Tonight we made just enough.”
The Lobos, who are hosting a Thanksgiving tournament over the weekend (which included the game against Wichita State), will play UC Irvine on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., before finishing out the weekend with a game against Illinois on Sunday.
UC Irvine lost to Illinois, 65-59, on Friday shortly before the Lobos-Shockers game kicked off.
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 reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.