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UNM reaches NIT Final Four

Tenacious defense, precise passing on offense give Lobos win over UAB

It might not be the NCAA Women's Final Four, but for the UNM women's basketball team, reaching the Women's National Invitation Tournament Final Four is just as good.

With a 77-55 win over the University of Alabama-Birmingham Wednesday night in The Pit, the Lobos found out how good it feels to be one of four teams still playing.

With a tenacious half-court defense and a precise passing offense, the Lobos (21-12) advanced to the semifinals of the WNIT for the first time in the program's history.

"It means a lot to us to go this far," point guard Nikki Heckroth said. "Any time you reach a final four it is exciting, and really this is a good tournament."

The Blazers (20-11) became the third straight victim to succumb to a Pit crowd and to the ferocious defense that the Lobos unleashed. UNM also used two scoring runs of 9-0 and 16-5 to blow out UAB.

The Lobos, playing in front of a deafening crowd of 6,796, held the Blazers to 16 points below its season scoring average of 71 points per game.

The Lobos used a team effort on offense with 24 assists, the second highest this season, and valuing every possession with just eight turnovers, the second lowest this season.

"I thought we defended them as well as you could defend them," head coach Don Flanagan said. "The key offensively was that we were patient, went inside and got good looks."

Leading 34-26 at halftime, UNM came out early in the second half and sealed a win early, exploding in a 16-5 run during the first five minutes. Every point came from inside the paint. Sophomore center Jordan Adams started the run with one of her many layups in the low post. The run was helped by some bad shots by the Blazers and the defense contesting every shot. By the time the run ended, the Lobos were up 50-31 and would go up as many as 24 points. The Blazers could only close the gap to 17 points once.

The Lobos shot 55.6 percent in the second half and finished shooting 50 percent. They also hit seven-for-11 from the perimeter for 36.8 percent.

Adams was the games high scorer with 20 points. She struggled early, going just two-of-eight from the field for six points in the first half. Adams recovered, scoring 14 points on six-of-nine shooting in the second half. The Blazers constantly fronted Adams trying to keep the ball out of her hands, but the Lobos adjusted, lobbing the ball over the defenders and giving Adams several uncontested layups.

Many of those passes came from Heckroth and junior guard Molly McKinnon. Heckroth finished with six assists and McKinnon had a career-high nine assists with no turnovers and contributed 15 points.

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The defense was smothering, as UNM player got their hands on every pass, swarming every shooter. The Lobos' defensive effort was led by sophomore forward Chelsea Grear, who had the assignment of trying to stop Blazer forward Deanna Jackson, the second leading scorer in the nation with 25.4 points a game.

Jackson found very few open looks and Grear forced her into numerous off-balance shots. Jackson finished with 16 points on five-of-19 shooting. Grear scored 13 points.

"I go out there and just hustle my butt off and that is all I can really do," Grear said. "Coach expects us to play hard and try and not let the key players touch the ball and that is what we did."

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