Steven: Lobos Rally From Ten Down to Ground Air Force 65-59

March 9, 2013

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New Mexico Women's Basketball - Mountain West - In The Pit
New Mexico Lobos 65, Air Force Falcons 59
Thursday: New Mexico vs UNLV Lady Rebels - MW Tournament - Las Vegas

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

Nobody said momentum had to be pretty.

The New Mexico Lobos rallied from second-half holes of 44-34 and 55-50 to grind out a 65-59 Mountain West victory over a scrappy Air Force Falcons' team Saturday afternoon in The Pit.

The UNM rally - paced by Deeva Vaughn's 23 points and 14 rebounds - allows the Lobos to head to the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas riding a two-game win streak. The Lobos will open the MW fray in the Vegas Thomas & Mack with their third look at the UNLV Lady Rebels, who beat UNM twice during the regular season.

The Lobos' rally also allowed the Lobos to wear some sincere smiles at the game's end when New Mexico honored its four seniors: Caroline Durbin, Chinyere Nnaji, Jayme Jackson and Jourdan Erskine.

The Falcons almost spoiled the post-game party and outplayed the Lobos most of the game, but not in the closing minutes of both halves.

It was almost like the Lobos said, "enough is enough," and raised their level of play in the final minutes of the halves.

Especially when it came to attacking the offensive boards.

Especially when it came to Vaughn, who went 9-of-15 from the floor and 2-of-3 from 3-point range.

The Lobos got 33 points off the bench from Vaughn and Bryce Owens (11), but Coach Yvonne Sanchez had adjusted her starting lineup to make room for all four seniors.

At the game's end, the four seniors took their turns on the microphone and made sure to thank their special fans for the years of support.

"You guys really make it a special place to play," Durbin told The Pit crowd.

"It's felt like a home," said Jackson.

Said Nnaji: "You guys are amazing. Talk about loyalty."

The Pit's loyalty probably helped UNM in their final charges over the Falcons. The Lobos shot a cool 37.9 percent from the field, but that number was bumped in both halves by improved shooting. UNM went 25-of-66 from the field, 4-of-17 from long range and 11-of-22 from the free-throw line.

The Falcons shot 44.4 percent going 20-of-45 - shooting 19 fewer shots than the Lobos. Air Force was 4-of-5 from 3-point range and 15-of-23 from the line.

The Lobos won the board battle 40-34 and had 12 steals to five for Air Force. UNM had a 36-28 edge in points-in-the-paint and had 44 bench points to 10 for Air Force.

A key stat for UNM was second-chance points. UNM won that stat battle 17-to-7 and got several key second-chance buckets in their rally from ten down in the second half.

Air Force got 15 points from Cherae Medina , who went 3-of-4 from long range. Katie Hilbig had 11 points and 13 boards.

The Lobos came out of the half with a 27-25 lead. Air Force hustled its way into leads of 31-29 and 38-32. That second lead formed off a fast-break layup convinced Coach Sanchez to call a time out.

The Falcons continued to handle the pressure of The Pit and the pressure of the UNM defense. At the 11:41 mark, Air Force was up 44-34 with the points coming off a one-and-one opportunity at the line.

Vaughn scored inside and added a free throw to cut Air Force's lead to four: 46-42. At the 7:54 break, UNM was down 47-42. UNM came out of its huddle and Vaughn launched in a trey from the baseline in front of the UNM bench: 47-45.

UNM pulled into a 50-all tie, but Air Force went back up 55-50. An Owens trey followed by two buckets inside by Vaughn handed UNM a 57-55 lead. UNM turned its 7-0 run into a 9-0 run on a baseline jumper by Owens: 59-55.

The Lobos upped their defensive pressure to even another level and held on for the 65-59 Mountain West win.

The Lobos scratched out of a 23-17 hole using a 10-0 run to help them claim a narrow 27-25 halftime lead. Vaughn paced UNM in the first half with six points. UNM shot 35 percent in the first 20 minutes and had to warm up down the stretch to reach that modest number.