The 5-seed New Mexico Lobos knew what was coming in their semifinal game against top-seeded San …
New Mexico focused its defensive effort on UNLV's Kelli Thompson, the leading scorer in the MWC in the regular season, and was able to take advantage of the Rebels short bench and their own team's depth to grind out the win.
"I think we wore them down a little bit," said Caroline Durbinn, who scored 17 points and had six rebounds. "We were able to get rid of the jitters we had. We were able to be aggressive and play our game."
Brown came off the bench to lead all scorers with 21 points on 4-9 shooting and a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line. Sara Halasz added 13 points for UNM and Deeva Vaughn registered a double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Thompson scored seven points for UNLV, harassed into one of her worst shooting days of her career – 2 of 14 from the field and 1 of 6 from 3-point range.
"We took Kelli Thompson out," said head coach Yvonne Sanchez. "That was our game plan. We were face guarding her. The person on her had no help responsibilities."
The Lobos trailed just 7-6 lead early but UNLV rallied and took a 17-6 lead after engineering a 10-0 run that was capped by a Rejane Verin jumper at the 10:58 mark of the first half. But New Mexico responded with a 14-3 run of their own fueled by the play of Brown and Vaughn to tie the game at 20-20 with 4;31 left in the first half.
UNLV battled back to tie the game at 24-24 with 54 seconds left in the half but Durbin sank a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers to send the Lobos into halftime leading 30-24.
"It felt really great," said Durbin of making the two shots. "I mean, it almost felt like the end of the game. It just got us on a roll for the second half."
The Rebels opened the second half on a 7-2 run capped by a three-pointer by Thompson to cut the Lobo lead to 31-32 with 17:50 left in the second half. But UNM responded with another run, reeling off six straight points for a 38-31 advantage two minutes later.
With Thompson mostly neutralized, UNLV struggled but was still able to muster a last charge, cutting the UNM lead to 60-57 with 1:46 left in the game. But the Lobos closed out on the free throw line, hitting 80 percent of their freebies to take the game.
"They did a nice job of that," said Sanchez of her team's performance at the free throw line. "That has to continue for tomorrow's performance because obviously San Diego State is not too bad. But it's a good performance and it's a good focus for our kids."