The University of New Mexico women's basketball team got off to a hot start at Dreamstyle Arena Wednesday evening, building an early double-digit lead.
But its not how you start, it's how you finish—and the offense was hard to come by in the second half as UNLV outlasted a late Lobo rally to hold on for a 68-66 victory.
New Mexico (16-4, 4-3 MW) wasted no time jumping all over its opponent as all five starters scored from the field heading into the first media timeout. Senior guard Alex Lapeyrolerie connected on a 3-point attempt to open the scoring for the game, which was followed by another deep ball from freshman Jasmine Smith to put the Lobos up 6-0.
Junior post Jaisa Nunn, Tesha Buck and Cherise Beynon all found the box score as well as New Mexico charged out of the gate for a 13-3 lead at the first media timeout.
The lead swelled to as many as 14 after Buck hit her second long-range shot of the first quarter, putting UNM ahead of UNLV by a count of 20-6 with 3:36 remaining in the opening period.
UNLV (9-7, 4-1 MW) overcame some early shooting woes to make a run to get back within striking distance. The Rebels had a 12-4 spurt to cut the Lobo lead to six point, but Buck struck again from beyond the arc to put UNM on top 27-18 to end the first quarter.
UNLV senior guard Brooke Johnson kept her team alive with eight first quarter points and led all scoring with 13 first-half points. Johnson drove to the basket and completed an old-fashioned 3-point play after getting fouled by Lapeyrolerie with 7:47 left in the second quarter.
The Rebels continued to chip away at the Lobo lead and made it a single possession game on a couple of occasions, making it a 32-30 game. But New Mexico rattled off eight quick points as the Rebels went cold and enjoyed a 10-point lead before UNLV got a Jordyn Bell jumper to fall just before the half—which ended .
While UNLV had its struggles scoring in the first half, it was UNM that couldn't find the bottom of the basket as the game progressed.
The Lobo offense shot 50 percent in the first half, but the smooth shooting seemed to stay in the locker room as the team shot a meager 22.2 percent from the field after halftime. The 3-point shot that treated the Lobos so well early on, betrayed them as well—as UNM went just 3-for-18 from distance down the stretch.
New Mexico head coach Mike Bradbury said there was a stark contrast in the way his team played in the first half compared to the second.
"There were two different halves there," Bradbury said in a release. "I thought in the first half we came out and competed. We were on the plus side of rebounding. Different story there for us (in the second half)."
New Mexico ended up getting out rebounded 41-35, but also missed 10 consecutive shots in the third quarter as the team saw its lead evaporate while the Rebels seized the opportunity.
UNLV took its first lead of the game after Paris Strawther knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a 47-46 advantage and later pushed the lead to nine points to cap a 24-7 run to start the second half. Lapeyrolerie scored five points in the final minute of the third quarter to end the Lobo scoring drought.
"They came out and played a little harder than we did in the first five minutes of the third quarter, and I thought those five minutes really shifted the momentum and changed the game," Bradbury said.
The Lobos had their chances in the fourth quarter,
UNLV answered nearly every Lobo run with a basket of its own and maintained a six-point lead as the game clock continued to tick away.
Beynon pulled the Lobos within three points, 67-64, with 2:33 to play—but neither team was able to make a move over the next couple of minutes.
New Mexico forced a UNLV turnover and a shot-clock violation, but missed out on a couple of opportunities to tie the game from deep.
The Rebels continued to leave the door open for the Lobos, spitting a pair of free throws and fouling Nunn down low with 4.8 seconds remaining. She sunk both of her attempts to make the score 68-66.
UNM was forced to foul immediately and UNLV missed both of its free throw attempts with 4.4 seconds left in the game. That set up a potential game-winner as Nunn rebounded the miss and got the ball to Beynon, but her final heave wasn't close as the Rebels held on for the 68-66 win.
Lapeyrolerie paced the Lobos with 19 points, while Nunn registered a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. The Rebels were led by Johnson, who had 19 points as well, followed closely by the 18 points put up by teammate Katie Powell.
That duo combined to make 14 of their team's 24 shots from the floor and helped deal New Mexico its first home loss of the season, snapping a 13-game Lobo home winning streak.
New Mexico will try to rebound on the road as it heads to San Diego State to take on the Aztecs at 2 p.m.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.