UNLV ends Lobos' MWC unbeaten streak

·3 min read

Jan. 28—The sprint to the finish is officially on.

A late defensive stop led to an ending where emotions boiled over as the UNLV women's basketball team eked out an 85-79 win over the University of New Mexico on Thursday night in Las Vegas, Nev. The loss snaps the Lobos' nine-game winning streak and prevented them from putting a stranglehold on the Mountain West Conference race.

At 17-5 overall and 8-1 in the league, UNM falls into a tie with the Rebels (16-4, 8-1) as the MWC reached its halfway point entering the weekend. A win would have given the Lobos a regular season sweep of UNLV and at least two-game cushion in the conference.

It started off well as UNM opened a 10-point lead early in the second quarter as Shaiquel McGruder sparked the offense with solid play inside. Although the Lobos did eventually attempt 23 shots from 3-point range, the plan early on was to penetrate UNLV's defense with aggressive play in the paint.

McGruder finished with a team-high 27 points and half a dozen rebounds, but it was the Rebels' Essence Booker who emerged as the game's biggest star. She poured in

31 points despite sitting for a few moments midway through the fourth quarter after picking up her fourth foul.

UNLV built what seemed to be an insurmountable 79-71 lead with 2:56 remaining when Booker's 3-pointer from the right side capped an 8-2 spurt that gave the Rebels their biggest lead.

UNM immediately responded with eight straight points, getting the equalizer on a Paula Reus drive with 54 seconds left. UNLV's Desi-Rae Young converted a bucket in the low post moments later, but after the play she bumped Lobos guard LaTora Duff in the chest. Both players were called for technical fouls, setting the stage for a five-minute delay as officials sorted things out.

The break seemed to take all the momentum out of UNM's rally. In setting up for a final possession, the ball was worked to the left wing to Reus with four seconds left. She was immediately trapped by UNLV's defense.

Lobos coach Mike Bradbury pleaded for a timeout but wasn't given one as Reus had the ball stripped by the Rebels' Justice Ethridge. In arguing the call, Bradbury was assessed a technical, giving UNLV four straight free throws in the final seconds to end it.

It ended what had been a solid game between the top two teams in the MWC. There were eight ties and more than a dozen lead changes.

The Lobos had three players finish in double figures, including 17 from LaTora Duff and 13 from Reus. De La Cerda struggled most of the way, scoring eight points while missing 10 of her 13 shots and battling foul trouble for the final 15 minutes.

UNM flew from Las Vegas to the West Coast immediately after Thursday's game. The Lobos will play at San Diego State on Saturday afternoon before returning to The Pit for their next three games.

LOBOS NOTES

The UNM men will host San Jose State on Friday night in The Pit. It'll be a battle of the only winless teams in Mountain West play, with the Lobos (7-13, 0-7) alone in last place and the visiting Spartans (7-11, 0-6) just a half-game in front.

UNM is promoting the game with $5 beer sales (half price) and rally towels to the first 500 fans.

"I know the record is not even close to where we want to be, and the program is not even close to where we want it to be, but we're trying to rebuild our program as well as rebuild the fan base," said New Mexico coach Richard Pitino.