The University of New Mexico women's basketball team looked sluggish and out of sync but played well enough to beat the Air Force Academy 65-52 Saturday at The Pit.
The Lobos struggled offensively in the first half because of poor shooting from the field, which helped the Falcons stay in the game. However, UNM recovered early in the second half with a decisive run that put the game away.
The win improved UNM's record to 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference and 14-8 overall. The Falcons fell to 0-8 in conference, 3-18 overall.
Air Force's stalling tactics helped keep the UNM offense bogged down for much of the game. The Falcons took time off the clock on every possession and attempted several shots as the 30-second shot clock was winding down. The slow pace made the Lobos impatient, and they hurried or forced many of their shots, which led to 33-percent shooting in the first half.
"Because of the way they play, it is a different style to play against," head coach Don Flanagan said. "We also looked a little rusty."
It looked like UNM would blow the Falcons out early on in the first half. The Lobos came out with tremendous energy and quickly went up 9-2 after a pair of free throws by UNM center Jordan Adams. Then UNM showed its impatience, often making only one pass and settling for a long-range jumper.
The Falcons ran the clock down on offense and hoisted up 18 3-pointers in the first half. A couple of 3-pointers fell early for the Falcons as the team went on an 11-4 run to take a 16-13 lead. UNM regained the lead at 21-18 on a three by Sanchez with six and a half minutes remaining in the half and never trailed again.
Flanagan said he was not concerned about his team's level of play in the first half.
"I think we looked a little bad, but it is correctable," Flanagan said. "I am not down on this whole thing, but we have to play tougher and with more effort."
In the second half, better execution on offense and one quick scoring burst early in the half by UNM was the difference in the game.
The Lobos' 29-27 halftime lead was short-lived when the Falcons tied the score 20 seconds into the half. As the crowd of 13,109, second largest of the season, grew impatient, the Lobos exploded on a 12-2 run in a three-minute span that finally put some distance between them and the Falcons.
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The run started with a 3-pointer from UNM guard Molly McKinnon on the right side of the floor. After an Air Force basket, Adams caught the ball in the paint and made a turnaround hook shot. On UNM's ensuing possession, point guard Nikki Heckroth faked a shot on the baseline and drove in for a lay-up.
With the crowd in a frenzy, McKinnon hit another 3-pointer and freshman Lauren McLeod ended the run with a slashing drive to the basket.
The Falcons could get no closer than seven points the rest of the way as the Lobos held a double-digit lead for much of the final 16 minutes.
"We took our time a little more," Adams said of the difference between the first and second halves. "We seemed to be forcing it a little more in the first half. We moved the ball around better in the second."
UNM outscored the Falcons by 11 in the second half and shot a sizzling 59 percent from the field, and 46.5 percent for the game. The Lobos also shot well from behind the arc, finishing six-of-14 for 43 percent.
Against a shorter Falcon team, the Lobos dominated inside defensively, keeping the Air Force offense out on the perimeter.
The Lobos made sure no driving lanes to the basket were open and constantly pressured the Falcons' outside shooters. Air Force finished six-of-27 from the 3-point line for 22.2 percent and only one-of-nine in the second half. The Falcons shot 37 percent from the field for the game.
Adams took game-high scoring honors with 17 points. She was only one-of-six in the first half, but rebounded to shoot five-of-11 for the game. Adams also had two blocks, giving her a career-high 63 for the season and breaking her year-old record of 61.
Senior Miranda Sanchez earned her first double-double this year with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 rebounds matched a career-high, for Sanchez.
The game was the first for the Lobos in a week and Adams and Sanchez both said the long layoff contributed to the sluggish play.
Guard Amy Jackson led the Falcons with 12 points and forward Rozalyn Ross added 10.
With a size advantage in the post, coupled with the perimeter-oriented offense of the Falcons, the Lobos shot many more free throws. UNM shot 30 times from the charity stripe, making 19, while Air Force made all four of its attempts.
Sanchez said the fan support made the win more special and makes playing at The Pit very exciting.
"It's a great feeling obviously," Sanchez said. "It makes worth coming down here and playing everyday. You know you're practicing to play in front of an audience. It really motivates us going out there knowing were are playing for other people besides ourselves."