Lobos hold off San Diego to advance to WNIT Sweet 16 – Santa Fe New Mexican

ALBUQUERQUE — The first day of spring brought an extra special treat for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball program.

Facing San Diego in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Sunday in The Pit, the Lobos (26-9) held on for a 73-69 win that sends them into next week’s NIT version of the Sweet 16, where they will play Oregon State.

It wasn’t easy getting there. San Diego (17-15) rattled off a stunning 17-0 run in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter to tie it at 65 and set up a sprint to the finish over the final 70 seconds. UNM was able to pull away thanks to a timely 3-pointer from LaTascya Duff, a layup from Shaiquel McGruder and three free throws down the stretch.

“It obviously got a little more interesting than we wanted it to late,” said UNM coach Mike Bradbury. “But I’ll give our kids credit. Everything over the last, whatever it was, minute and a half I think we executed every single thing.”

Duff’s bucket snapped the tie with 1:03 left. It put the Lobos in front the rest of the way.

The Lobos got 62 of their 73 points from four players. Finishing with 16 points apiece were Duff, McGruder and Antonia Anderson. Jaedyn De La Cerda had 14. McGruder’s day included 14 rebounds and a perfect 6-for-6 effort from the free throw line.

Bradbury wasn’t particularly pleased with the officiating, but he did say it was one of UNM’s best games on defense all season. Three Lobos finished with four fouls and all five starters had at least three by game’s end.

“I thought we got some really, really tough calls down the stretch,” he said. “But our kids never complained and they continued to fight.”

The Torreros appeared to be dead in the water when Anderson converted a fastbreak layup to open a 65-48 lead with 4:52 left. San Diego responded with a near-miracle rally that featured four Lobos turnovers, three missed UNM shots and five offensive rebounds by the Torreros.

It produced a tie game when Erica Martinsen hit two free throws with 1:10 remaining that silenced the crowd of 3,055 fans.

McGruder’s layup with 42 seconds left opened a 70-67 lead, which was followed 21 seconds later when Anderson deflected a Kiera Oakry pass that led to a steal by De La Cerda just as the Torreros were setting up for a potential game-tying shot attempt.

“When [McGruder] plays, we’re good,” Bradbury said. “Sky’s the limit for her and it was pretty high tonight.”

The Lobos got just eight points from their bench, although six of them came from a seldom-used Kath von Bennekom. She helped provide a spark after a slow and sloppy start in the first half as UNM’s offense sprang to life in the second and third quarters.

The Lobos had seven turnovers and missed eight of 12 shots in the first quarter but settled down as the miscues dissipated before halftime. A 30-27 advantage at the break turned into a 54-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

NOTES

Record books: UNM’s 26 wins ties the school record set in the 2004-05 season.

Moving on: Three teams from the Mountain West Conference survived the WNIT’s opening round. Two of them made it out of Sunday’s second round as Wyoming beat Tulsa, 97-90, in triple overtime in Laramie, Wyo.

In Los Angeles, Air Force was held to 30 percent shooting in a 61-45 loss at UCLA.

All four MWC teams in the WNIT field were in the same unnamed 16-team regional, a portion of the 64-team bracket reserved for teams in the western part of the country. That included a pair of teams from the Pac 12.

Both regional semifinals have a Pac 12 team facing a Mountain West club as UNM will face Oregon State and Wyoming gets UCLA. The next round begins Wednesday with sites and times determined by the WNIT.