#MWMadness: Lobos Silence High-Powered San José State, Move into Semifinals

 

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By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com

 

LAS VEGAS - New Mexico senior Khadijah Shumpert remembers last year's championship game against Boise State. She hit 3 of 5 from the field and all 11 of her free throw attempts, but her 17 points and her team's grittiest effort wasn't enough to overcome defending champion Boise State.

That's why when Shumpert found a groove early in Tuesday's quarterfinal of the 2016 Mountain West Women's Basketball Championship, she never lost her shooting touch en route to a 26-point performance in the fifth-seeded Lobos' 65-51 win over No. 4 San José State.

"I know that the tournament is a time where it's do or die," Shumpert said. "It's not like I'm going to get a second chance. It's come out and play with all the heart, all the effort and all the energy to make it happen and that was my mentality today."

Shumpert was 11 of 15 from the field, which helped the Lobos, who went on hot and cold shooting streaks throughout the game. She set a tournament record for field goals made in a second-round game, while she tied the tournament record for points in a second-round contest.

New Mexico, which is now 7-1 all-time against the Spartans, opened the game hitting 8-of-12, then was mired in a 4-of-17 skid from the floor. The Lobos regained their composure to hit eight of their next 11 shots, but then fell off again, this time missing eight of nine.

"We were able to hit shots at the right time and able to get rebounds at the right time," said New Mexico coach Yvonne Sanchez, whose Lobos iced the game and pulled away by hitting four of their final eight field goal attempts. "We had to control the tempo a little bit, which I think we did a nice job of."

The teams split the regular-season series, with New Mexico dominating at home (71-57) and the Spartans tightening the reins in San Jose (59-58). In limiting San Jose to below 60 for a third time this season - and an average of 55.6 points overall - sophomore guard Cherise Beynon said the Lobos always take the court with a defensive mindset.

"We get a stop then we get a score," said Beynon, who finished with nine points and six rebounds. "We've got to stop them. Our goal today was to stop them in transition. Ultimately our goal first is defense and offense second because defense is what is part of our game.

"It's our identity that we had last year and that we're trying to pursue this year. That is just our mentality as a team, is just to get defensive stops and hold them to a certain amount of points every game."

The Spartans were led by Dezz Ramos, who had 16 points.

New Mexico wasted no time against the Spartans, as it shot 56.3 percent in the first quarter to open up a 19-9 lead, while Shumpert made all four of her attempts. At the other end, the Lobos kept pressure on the ball, frustrating San Jose into a 3-for-10 slump over the first 10 minutes.

The Spartans kept things closer in the second quarter, but still couldn't find a way to make a run on New Mexico, which took a 32-20 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Spartans' 20 first half points were the fewest in a game this season for them.

"Tough first ten minutes for us," San Jose coach Jamie Craighead said. "We missed some shots early, shots that we've been making and I thought we got tight. But that first quarter seemed to do us in. We played them pretty even the rest of the way. We had our chances to come back in the game. And obviously New Mexico is a very good team and shut the door on us."

Sanchez said though the sting of losing games never goes away, like last year's title game, things are different this season with a different complexion for the Lobos. And regardless of the opponent, she depends on her staff to prepare her players for each opponent individually.

The Lobos are now 28-11 all time in Mountain West tournament play, while their win marks the 10th time a 5-seed has advanced to the semifinals, five coming in the last six years. And the reward for winning Tuesday's quarterfinal is a quick turnaround for Wednesday's semifinal date with top-seeded Colorado State.

"I have a phenomenal staff and they do a terrific job of preparing and breaking film down and letting them know who does what," Sanchez said. "We've got Colorado State tomorrow. That's the best team in the league. If you want to be the best you've got to go through them."

 

Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @WillieGRamirez