Survive and advance.
The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team did just that Thursday afternoon at Johnson Center, when they narrowly defeated the visiting Saint Mary’s Gaels, 82-80, in the first round of the WNIT.
The win, though, didn’t come easy.
It was physical and emotional — and the two led to many foul calls on the floor. Freshmen Antonia Anderson and N’Dea Flye both picked up four fouls in the first half, while senior guard Cherise Beynon and junior post Jaisa Nunn both fouled out in the latter half of the fourth quarter.
“They were really tough on offense and on defense,” Nunn said of the physical play down low from Saint Mary’s. “It was just one tough girl against another.”
Nonetheless, UNM (24-10), though outrebounded heavily by the Gaels (20-11), forced 24 turnovers in the game. Those mistakes from Saint Mary’s led to 30 points for the Lobos.
And those turnovers were key, since UNM was heavily outrebounded by the Gaels, 55-30, behind three Saint Mary’s players who had 10 or more rebounds in the game.
“We held our composure,” UNM head coach Mike Bradbury said. “We had plenty of opportunities to not, and I thought they were great. They held themselves together and made enough plays to win.”
The Lobos started out the game with five straight points, courtesy of a Nunn layup and a Beynon 3-pointer in transition. Beynon then hit another 3 to put UNM up 10-6 with 6:24 left in the first quarter and later in the frame made a layup to put her team up by as many as nine points.
But, by the end of the first quarter, Saint Mary’s was able to make a layup, closing UNM’s lead to 19-14.
Saint Mary’s, following the success at the end of the first quarter, hit a 3-pointer to close UNM’s lead to just two points at the beginning of the second quarter. But freshman guard Madi Washington, without hesitation, hit a 3-pointer of her own to make it 22-17 UNM early in the frame.
UNM would add four more 3-pointers in the second quarter, while outscoring Saint Mary’s 21-16 in the frame, to take a 40-30 halftime lead.
But, just like the game against Wyoming in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament, UNM got complacent and slowly let Saint Mary’s senior guard Stella Beck — who was also their leading scorer entering Thursday night — take over the game.
In the third quarter alone, Beck accounted for 12 of the Gaels’ 22 points. And by the end of the frame, UNM no longer had a double digit lead. Instead, the Lobos found themselves up 60-52.
Beck, in the fourth quarter, gave the Gaels the lead when she hit two free throws, after Bradbury was hit with a technical in the fourth quarter after he reacted to a foul call on Nunn, which ultimately fouled her out of the game. It put Saint Mary’s up 69-68 with just over four minutes.
Then, Beynon, a couple possessions later, nailed a 3-pointer to give her team the lead once again. Shortly after, on the next UNM offensive possession, Flye, too, hit a 3-pointer to add onto her team’s lead.
Flye hit not one, but two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, with the second one making the score 77-71 in favor of UNM with just 1:29 left to play. It was a welcomed sight for the Lobos, who struggled throughout a lot of the second half on the other end of the floor.
“I’ve been on a dry spell,” Flye said of her recent shooting struggles prior to Thursday’s game.
When asked about what was going through her mind when she nailed two critical 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, she said, “All I was thinking about was my team believing in me. I had Mike (Bradbury) believing in me, I had everyone else. So I was confident in my shot and they went in, so that’s all that matters.”
But Beck and Saint Mary’s were determined to play until the whistle blew.
In the last 20 seconds of the fourth quarter, the Gaels were down by five points. Then, after two made free throws with just a second left, Saint Mary’s was down by just two points.
Anderson was then fouled by the Gaels with .4 seconds, which sent her to the free throw line. She missed the first, then purposely missed the second, ultimately giving UNM the 82-80 victory.
Leading UNM in scoring was Beynon, who had a game-high 33 points to go along with eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Nunn finished second with 16 points and nine rebounds, while senior guard Tesha Buck had 10 points.
As a team, UNM shot 38.4 percent from the field. They also had 11 3-pointers, five of which came from Beynon.
Meanwhile, the Gaels saw a big performance out of Beck, who had a team-high 29 points. As a team, they shot 44.3 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.
With the win, the Lobos will move on to the second round of the WNIT. They will host Rice on Tuesday, March 20 at 7 p.m. at Dreamstyle Arena.
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