Lobo women run the Air Force
Wednesday night’s women’s basketball game at the Pit was starting to look like a replay.
The University of New Mexico and visiting Air Force battled it out for much of three quarters, and Lobos fans must have wondered if another nerve-wracking ending was in store. UNM had dropped a 60-59 heartbreaker in Wyoming four days earlier.
The Lobos had a different ending in mind.
LaTora Duff and Jaedyn De La Cerda sparked a quick finish as UNM pulled away for a 72-57 victory in front of an announced 4,462 fans. Duff scored a career-high 25 points (16 in the second half) and De La Cerda added 19 to help the Lobos (20-6, 11-2 Mountain West) improve to 13-1 at home this season.
It was nowhere near as easy as the final score might suggest, as the Falcons (13-11, 7-6) forced UNM out of their preferred style and held a one-point lead at the middle of the third quarter. But Lobos coach Mike Bradbury wasn’t concerned about the lack of style points.
“Nothing will ever be pretty against the Air Force,” he said. “Survival is about the best you could hope for and we survived.”
Without the efforts of Duff and De La Cerda, this might not have been the case. The senior guards took turns putting the Lobos on their backs when things weren’t going well for the home side.
Duff gave the Falcons fits in the second half with drives to the basket and the occasional shot. She scored UNM’s first eight points in the third quarter, converting on back-to-back drives after the Air Force took a 36-35 lead.
“I watched how well they were guarding me,” Duff said. “We couldn’t run our sets because they were right on top of us. I just told myself to be aggressive, try to get to the basket and make things happen.
De La Cerda offered a similar assessment. After hitting three 3-pointers in the second quarter to help UNM take a 33-27 lead, De La Cerda scored three consecutive baskets on drives in the fourth quarter to help the Lobos stay ahead.
“I just try to look at the position of the (defender’s) feet and decide which way to go,” De La Cerda said. “(Bradbury) always says, ‘Attack, attack, attack,’ and in this game we had to do that.”
LaTascya Duff and Paula Reus added 10 points apiece for the Lobos, who held the Air Force to three points in the final 3:51. It was a much different ending to Saturday’s game, when Wyoming finished on an 18-4 run and won the game on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
“We weren’t thinking about this game. We haven’t even talked about it,” Bradbury said. “We had to win this game no matter what happened the other day.”
Still, fans must have wondered a bit when UNM turned the ball over late in the first half and Air Force’s Cierra Winters hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Falcons into intermission with momentum. The Lobos then needed nearly four minutes to score in the third quarter before Duff went coast to coast to end the drought.
“I kind of felt like Jaedyn was stopping us from blowing each other up in the first half,” Bradbury said, “and Tora took over in the second half. They both played well.”
The Air Force stayed within striking distance late behind Riley Snyder (18 points) and Haley Jones (10 points, 15 rebounds), building up an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points. Still, UNM held their ground on the glass, being passed 40-35 but fighting for every possession in the second half.
“If you’re weak on the ball against the Air Force, you’re beaten,” De La Cerda said. “It’s exhausting to play them but it feels really good to win.”
Box Score: UNM 72, Air Force 57
(Click here for updated Mountain West rankings.)
SATURDAY: UNM in Nevada, 1:30 p.m., streaming themw.com, Lobo Radio Network