On a night filled with emotion, the UNM women’s basketball team defeated the University of Wyoming 65-54 Saturday night in The Pit in the last regular-season home game for UNM seniors Nikki Heckroth, Miranda Sanchez and Jennifer Williams.
With 15:51 still to play in the second half and the Lobos up 39-34, UNM used runs of 10-2 and 8-2 to go up 57-43 and finally put the game out of reach for Wyoming, which had played UNM tight all night.
With the win, the Lobos improved to 16-10 overall, 7-5 in the Mountain West Conference and entered a tight race for second place heading into the final week of play. UNM is now one game behind second-place Colorado State University, which has a conference mark of 8-4, and is tied with Brigham Young University and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas for third place. Wyoming dropped to 2-10 in conference play and 10-15 overall.
Sophomore Chelsea Grear scored six points in a 10-2 second-half run and freshman Melissa Forest aided in the 8-2 run that put the game away. Forest ended the game with seven points and four rebounds in only 11 minutes of action.
“I thought Melissa played her best game, her finest game,” Flanagan said. “What I really like about Melissa’s game is she played physical.”
Sophomore Jordan Adams, UNM’s leading scorer this season, was held to only four points. She finished with six rebounds and four blocked shots on the night. Wyoming’s McColl had a game-high 18 points on seven-of-11 shooting.
The two teams combined to commit 53 turnovers, and, after the game, Flanagan criticized UNM’s poor handling of the ball.
“We turned the ball over 28 times and that’s just inexcusable,” Flanagan said. “And a lot of the time, it was because we weren’t patient enough in our offense.”
The Lobos looked like they would blowout the Cowgirls quickly as they scored on a soft turn-around hook by sophomore Jordan Adams and a quick 3-pointer by Sanchez to take an early 5-0 lead. UNM then faltered some, as sloppy passes and bad defense allowed Wyoming to go up 14-10 with 13 minutes remaining in the first half.
UNM head coach Don Flanagan, looking to energize his defense, turned to 5-foot-5-inch sophomore Cristal Garcia, whose high-energy, aggressive defense propelled the Lobos on a 15-4 run to take a 25-18 lead with less than eight minutes to play in the half.
During that run, Sanchez connected on a 3-pointer that tied her with former UNM guard Abby Garchek for first place on UNM’s all-time 3-point field goals list with 164.
Wyoming clawed back into the game, thanks to the strong inside play of sophomore Ann McColl and some ill-advised passes by the Lobos, and cut UNM’s lead to 35-30 heading into the locker room.
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The Lobos outshot Wyoming from the floor in the first half, hitting 12 of 19 shots, including five-of-seven shooting from 3-point land for 71.4 percent, but had trouble holding on to the ball, committing 16 first-half turnovers.
UNM plays Brigham Young University Thursday in Provo, Utah, and the University of Utah Saturday in Salt Lake City, Utah, in its final two games of the year. Both games can be heard on 610-KNML AM.