Lobos Post Fifth-Straight Victory to Advance to MW Championship Game
By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - It might have been fitting that Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao kicked off their campaign on Wednesday, at a press conference in Los Angeles, as it set Las Vegas abuzz for their May 2 bout at the MGM Grand Garden.
Who knows, perhaps No. 2 seed New Mexico and fourth-third-seeded Fresno State felt the vibe, as their semifinal in the 2015 Mountain West Women's Championship turned into an entertaining, knock-down, drag-out, physical affair at the Thomas and Mack Center. In the end, it was the Lobos delivering the knockout blow, with a 64-53 win over two-time defending tournament champion Fresno State.
New Mexico (20-11) will face Boise State (20-10) in Friday's Noon PT championship game.
"Nobody wanted to go home today," New Mexico coach Yvonne Sanchez said. "They had a great game plan against us. We were just fortunate to come away with a win. Hopefully we get our legs back and ... make it a great championship game."
Lobos team leader Anteisha Brown led all scorers with 18 points and had seven rebounds, while Bryce Owens chipped in with 11 and Alexa Chavez had 10.
The Lobos established their presence early, taking an 8-4 lead and riding the energy of Las Vegas-product Cherise Beynon, who not only was playing in front of a raucous New Mexico crowd, but also had a personal fan base in the stands. The freshman guard scored four of the Lobos' first six points to spark the team over the first five minutes.
"They played a great game, came right out of the gates knocking down some shots, shooting 46 percent in the first half, just really limiting us," Fresno State coach Jaime White said. "I thought they played physical. Their defense really kind of threw us off there a little bit at first. I thought we were forcing some offense."
On the defensive end, the Lobos held Fresno State (22-9) scoreless during an eight-minute span, as the Bulldogs managed just four free throws until scoring their first field goal at the 9:59 mark, when Raven Fox hit a short jumper from the paint.
"They didn't shoot as well as they'd like to," Sanchez said. "I mean, that's almost impossible with a team like that. Shots didn't fall for them. They had some good looks. Sometimes it just happens. I thought our defense was really good. We stuck with our game plan."
While the Bulldogs struggled in the first half, hitting just 5 of 21 (23.8 percent) from the field, New Mexico hit 46.2 percent (12 of 26) and went into the break leading 26-18.
Fresno State came out roaring in the second half scoring the first four points and going on a 10-5 run to pull within three, at 31-28, but the Lobos responded with a 6-0 run of their own, capped by Josie Greenwood's block on MW co-Player of the Year Alex Sheedy's shot, and then a layup at the other end.
The game of runs continued, though, as Fresno got to within one at the 11:10 mark, when Sheedy intercepted a cross-court pass, went the length of the court and drew a foul. Her two free throws cut New Mexico's lead to 37-36.
It would be the closest the Bulldogs would get, as New Mexico closed the game on a 27-15 run, with Brown taking over for the Lobos, matching Fresno State's intensity from a physical standpoint and scoring 10 of her team's points in the final stretch.
"Defense will always win you games," Brown said. "That's what we focus on as a team, defense, defense, defense. We knew if we held them in the 50s, yeah, we would have a good chance of winning the game."
Said Sanchez, about Brown: "She's a leader. She's led this team the entire year. ... She's just taken this team a lot of times on her back and has done that. It was good to see us punch back. I mean, we needed to. They were very physical. They had their way with us a few times. They had a great game plan.
"Sometimes things just go your way. It was our night. It was a great basketball game. It was a great game for the fans. Two very good teams playing against each other. Like I said, we were fortunate to come away with that."
Fresno State was led by Sheedy, who had 14 points and seven rebounds while going 10 for 10 from the free-throw line. Fox chipped in with 11 for the Bulldogs.
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @AP_WG