Sanchez's Lobos Fall Short of Cinderella Story Finish

March 10, 2012

LAS VEGAS, Nev. --- New Mexico’s Cinderella story came to an end on Saturday afternoon in Thomas & Mack Center as the San Diego State Aztecs clinched the MW Tournament title and a berth to the NCAA Tournament with a 57-43 win over the Lobos.

The game marked the Lobos’ first loss in a title game in program history, dropping their record to 5-1 in MW championship games. It also marked the first time San Diego State defeated the Lobos in a MW tournament game, setting the new record to 6-1 against the Aztecs.

Day three of tournament play showcases a team’s ability to withstand fatigue, and both teams looked a little worn out.  Almost three minutes into the game, it was just 2-0 Lobos on a jumper by Caroline Durbin, who would go just 3-for-13 on the day. 

Once San Diego State got it going however, the Aztecs got the lead they needed with a 19-2 run, opening up a 19-4 advantage.  The Lobos started the game just 1-for-10, and by the time UNM got its third made field goal, it made the score 19-8, and there was just 5:34 left in the half.

“San Diego State is a very good defensive team,” New Mexico head coach Yvonne Sanchez said. “You’ve got to give them credit.  They're the No. 1 team in our conference.  They've been from beginning to end.  They're a great defensive team, both full court and halfcourt.  It's tough to score against them. 

“At our place we only scored 10 points in the first half,” Sanchez continued. “We know that.  We remember that. But everything that you get from San Diego State, you have to earn.  Tonight was no different.  They do a nice job.  We tried to execute what we could.  But their defense is good.”

New Mexico made a push before the half,  getting a pair of free throws from Nikki Nelson and a three-point play from Lauren Taylor to cut the Aztec lead to just 22-15 at the break.  However, SDSU’s depth proved a bit too much.

After getting the deficit down to just four after another Taylor three-point play, the Aztecs showed why they were the number one seed entering the tournament.  Ahjalee Harvey hit a shot, then Courtney Clements hit a three to push the lead back to nine.  Chairese Culberson scored to ignite another critical run that ended with a Malia Nahinu jumper to make it 41-25 with nine to go.

New Mexico, who entered the tournament as the number 7-seed after giving Air Force its only conference win of the season in the regular-season finale, had one last push.  That seemed to be the Lobos’ M.O. in this magical tournament run.

Nelson hit a three, and then she matched a pair of Aztec free throws.  Porche Torrance, who was named to the All-Tournament team, hit a jumper to cut it to 12, and then Durbin scored, and Torrance followed, and it was 43-35 with 5:35 to go.  UNM had a chance to cut it to five, but Durbin’s three was off-line, and Courtney Clements hit a three on the other end to end UNM’s Cinderella hopes.

The Lobos, shorthanded throughout most of the season, shot just .289 from the field and 14 percent from three-point range.  SDSU shot just 35.2 percent, and out-rebounded UNM 45-29.

Lauren Taylor, in her final game, led the Lobos with 14 points, and Torrance added 12.  Clements led SDSU with 16 and tournament MVP Chelsea Hopkins had 14.

While San Diego State will now await their NCAA Tournament fate, the Lobos have a tournament run that will help propel them into the off-season.  UNM finished the season 11-20 in Yvonne Sanchez’s first season, one racked with injuries, including Sara Halasz, who tore her ACL on the first day of practice.  Still, UNM went 5-5 despite a depleted lineup in the last 10 games.

NOTES:  New Mexico finished 11-20, but lost seven games by six points or less … Torrance was joined on the all-tournament team by Katie Lenhardt of Boise State, and SDSU’s Kalena Tutt, Courtney Clements, and Chelsea Hopkins (MVP) … UNM had just four offensive rebounds … SDSU outscored UNM 15-2 off turnovers.

First Half

Durbin put the first points on the board for the Lobos with just over 18 minutes to play on a layup from Porche Torrance. Durbin notched her first foul of the game right after, but Tutt missed both free throws to leave the Lobos with the 2-0 lead. Torrance got her first foul just under three minutes in though, and Hopkins drained both to tie the game at 2-2.

Clements gave SDSU its first lead at just under the 16 minute mark on a lay-in, and the 14:24 media time out saw the 4-2 lead still favoring San Diego. Both teams were shooting cold, with New Mexico at a 1-for-5 mark and SDSU netting 1-of-13. The Aztecs however, had already notched 10 offensive rebounds at just over five minutes in.

New Mexico took possession coming out of the media break, but a stop for San Diego transitioned into a three-ball for Clements, stretching the lead to 7-2. It was the start of a 6-0 run for the Aztecs, forcing Sanchez to burn a timeout with 12:57 to play.

While the Lobos found decent offensive opportunities, San Diego State crashed the boards hard and demonstrated a smooth transition offense. Another layup by Clements extended the run to 8-0 and gave the Aztecs a 12-2 lead with 11:06 to play.

Durbin finally broke the Lobo scoring stalemate with a jumper coming out of the second media break to chip away at the 10 point deficit, but SDSU built back to a 10-point lead on 1-for-2 efforts at the line from Desi Culberson and Melissa Sweat off the bench. A shot clock violation by the Lobos gave SDSU the ball back, and Sweat took the line again on a second foul to Erskine. Another 1-for-2 perfomance from the 46 percent free-throw shooter gave the Aztecs their largest lead, 15-4, with 8:27 to play.

San Diego continued to roll in transition. By the third media break, Hopkins had showcased a sweet spin move in the paint to put SDSU up, 17-4. With 7:23 remaining in the half, the Lobos were still shooting a cold 15.4 percent with Durbin’s two buckets the sole source of four points.

SDSU put on the full court press after Clements’ pull-up jumper worked for a 19-4 lead, and 1-for-2 efforts at the stripe from Torrance and Chinyere Nnaji were missed opportunities for the Lobos to creep closer to double digits.

With just over five minutes to play, Torrance poured in a long two from the top of the key to cut the lead to 19-8, and her lay-in with 3:50 to play caused SDSU head coach Beth Burns to call time with her team hanging on to a 19-10 lead.

New Mexico’s Nnaji took a charge with 2:55 left in the half, giving the Lobos a shot to cut the lead to seven, but Durbin’s three rolled out and two free-throws extended the SDSU lead. By the time the clock wound down to the one minute mark, the Lobos were back down 22-12.

Lauren Taylor completed an old-fashioned three-point play with 47 seconds to play, cutting the lead to seven, and the Lobos took the final possession of the contest on a missed layup by Tutt. UNM couldn’t convert though, and both teams headed to the locker room with UNM trailing, 22-15. At the half, New Mexico was outshooting the Aztecs 26 percent to 24 from the floor and 71 percent to 41 percent from the line.

Second Half

San Diego State took possession to start the second half, and a foul by Nikki Nelson put Hopkins on the line. She netted both, 24-15, but Lauren Taylor finished her second three-point play of the game to cut it to 24-18. The Lobos got a stop and Malia Nahinu’s second foul put Erskine on the line for two. She missed the front end but got the second to cut the Aztec lead to five, but her third foul put Hopkins on the line for a three-point play. She missed it though, and Taylor drove to the hoop again for another “and-one” opportunity.

Sanchez used her full time out before Taylor took the line and finished the three point play. New Mexico applied the full court press with the score set at 26-22 with 17 minutes to play, Ahjalee Harvey drained a three to stretch the lead back to seven. With 15:59 to play, SDSU was clinging to a 29-22 lead.

New Mexico took possession coming out of the break, but turned the ball over to yield a layup to Hopkins. 31-22 Aztecs. Porche Torrance answered with a 15 footer and Clements missed a three to give New Mexico a chance. Hopkins fouled at the top of the arc with 13:53 to play, but Durbin’s attempt at a three was too hard.

With 13:05, Torrance took the free-throw line, but missed the pair. Culberson’s jumper on the other end stretched the lead back to nine with a score of 33-24. Torrance missed a jumper and SDSU’s Nahinu found herself on the line with the chance to notch a double-digit led. She made both free throws to start a 6-1 run, which forced Sanchez to burn a t/o with 10:22 to play and a score of 39-25.

San Diego hit another two before Nelson hit the Lobos’ first three of the game to cut the score to 41-28. Her second personal foul worked for the third media break though, SDSU still up by 13. With 7:43 left in the contest, SDSU had climbed to an accuracy of 31.8 from the floor, while UNM was suck at 26.5 percent.

Coming out of the break, Sajoyia Griffin took the line for SDSU and netted a pair. Nelson answered with two of her own, and a stop for UNM translated into two shots for Torrance with 7:12 to play. She missed the tail end but the Aztecs missed in transition. Durbin’s put-back on a missed three by Nelson cut the lead to 10, and New Mexico got another stop for a chance to cut it to single digits with under six minutes to play.

Cut the lead they did on a layup by Torrance for a 43-35 score with 5:27 to play. Burns called time to gather her team, but Nahinu turned the ball over to give the Lobos another chance.

Durbin got an open look from downtown but missed. Clements hit one on the other end though, and Sanchez called time with 4:15 on the clock and her Lobos down 46-35. Taylor tried to answer with a three but was short, and San Diego took possession coming out of the final media break.

The Aztecs turned the ball over but the Lobos couldn’t capitalize, and Kiyana Stamps hit a jumper on the other end to extend the lead to 13. San Diego State slowed its pace with under three minutes to play. Back-to-back fouls from Nnaji and Torrance gave the Aztecs the ball on the inbounds first and then a pair of free-throws to Nahinu. She made both for a new score of 50-35 and just over two minutes left on the clock.

Taylor hit the Lobos’ second three of the game, but it came a little too late. Stamps completed a three-point play to answer with 1:37 to go, taking the wind out of the sails for the Lobos.

Both teams traded a few points before Sanchez put walk-on freshmen Maddie Muraida and Jamie Parker in for the final minute of play. Parker made one of two free throws and when the clock hit zeros, the score read 57-43 in favor of the Aztecs.