ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Leading for almost the entire game, Arizona (6-3) never let any of the late runs from New Mexico (7-3) break its cool in defeating the Lobos, 58-53, Saturday at The Pit.
“We really stuck together during adversity and that is a good thing for us because we look pretty good when everything is going well,” Arizona coach Niya Butts said. “When teams make a run, we have to stay in tune to what we do, and today we did that.”
Coach Butts also mentioned that All-American candidate Davellyn Whyte was feeling ill Saturday, despite scoring 13 points – three under her season average. It was junior transfer Kama Griffits who led the Wildcats with 16 points, including four field goals from beyond the arc.
“She had this look in her eye from the very beginning,” Butts said of Griffits. “She wanted to step up and show some leadership.”
Whyte opened the scoring with a three in the game’s opening minute for the Wildcats. Griffits hit threes three minutes apart as the Wildcats took leads of 10-4 and 15-8 early. Bryce Owens would answer with a trey for the Lobos to cut the lead to four, but that was as close as UNM could manage for the first half. Another Whyte three increased the lead to 32-23 with a minute left, before the Lobos’ Caroline Durbin converted a traditional three-point play with 24 ticks left to end the period 32-26.
Whyte came right out of the gate in the second half with a three. New Mexico’s freshman Whitney Johnson cut the lead to 42-40 with 10:00 left, but Whyte answered with a floater off the glass on the next possession. Doing it all, Whyte also found Erica Barnes (11 points) under the basket with a beautiful bounce pass in traffic to make it 46-41. Carissa Crutchfield (five assists) scored to increase the lead to 48-41 -while falling to the hardwood in the paint, and Whyte connected to Barnes in the post again for Arizona’s fourth-straight field goal before the Lobos could muster one. That turned into an eight-point run for the Lobos.
Johnson got lucky on a rim roller while in the paint, drawing the foul. She missed the free throw, but Owens picked up a steal – one of her five on the day, and Durbin scored to put the Lobos up 51-50.
Trailing 53-51, Durbin sank two free throws to tie it once more with two minutes left.
Another Griffits three made it 56-53 for Arizona. Durbin missed the tying shot with 20 seconds left, and Griffits knocked two from the line to conclude it at 58-53.
“We’re still growing as a team” UNM coach Yvonne Sanchez said. “I tell them, ‘One shot can’t lose a basketball game, One shot can win it.’ We had every opportunity to take this game away from them and we just couldn’t.”
Arizona forward Alli Gloyd led all rebounders with nine. The Lobos outscored the Wildcats 18-8 off turnovers.
“I think we came out playing hard, but shooting wise (disgruntled face), we just have to learn from it,” said UNM guard Sara Halasz, who scored a team-high 12.
It was the third-consecutive year the Wildcats won the matchup between the two, as Whyte scored 27 at the McKale Center on Dec. 21, 2011.
The Wildcats host Weber State at 3 p.m. Dec. 16, and the Lobos are next at New Mexico State at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 18. UNM will not return to The Pit until Jan. 16 versus Boise State.
“It prepares us because this is a physical team to play, a great place to play, a hostile environment, and this is a good New Mexico team,” Butts said. “There are a lot of things to go back and look at after this game that prepares us for the season.”