The University of New Mexico women’s basketball won the hard way Saturday.
Shots were not falling, senior Alex Lapeyrolerie was injured, and the Lobos found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter of a grinding defensive battle against Air Force at Dreamstyle Arena.
But UNM found a way.
Jaisa Nunn scored 25 points, Laneah Bryan cashed in a critical four-point play and the Lobos used a game-ending 13-1 run to grab a 57-49 victory in their annual Lobos Love Pink game. UNM (19-7, 7-6 Mountain West) shot just 32.1 percent from the field and trailed for much of the contest but held the Falcons (2-21, 2-10) without a field goal for the final 6:04.
A pink-clad crowd announced at 5,369 turned out for UNM’s promotion to raise breast cancer awareness. The Lobos sported pink shoes, headbands and other accessories, and cancer survivors in the arena received a lengthy ovation at halftime.
Otherwise, the crowd was subdued for much of the afternoon — until Bryan brought fans and her teammates to their feet.
Air Force led 48-46 with 5:30 remaining in the fourth quarter when UNM’s Cherise Beynon drove into the paint and fired a pass to Bryan in front of the Lobos’ bench. The senior launched a 3-point try just before she was knocked down by the Falcons’ Kennedy Beale.
Bryan never saw the shot go in.
“No, (Beale) was kind of standing over me,” Bryan said, “but I assumed it went in because everyone was really excited. Cherise drove and took my defender with her, so I was open when the ball came. She made a great play.”
It was one of a season-low two 3-pointers by the Lobos, and Bryan hit them both in the second half. The latter, followed by Bryan’s free throw, gave UNM the lead for good.
“That was the best play I’ve ever seen,” Nunn said. “I didn’t even know she shot a 3, but I saw the ball go in and saw (Bryan) on the floor and I went crazy. That got everyone fired up.”
If Bryan’s shot was the high point Saturday, Lapeyrolerie’s injury in the closing seconds of the first quarter was the low point. The senior guard’s left knee appeared to buckle as she tried to defend against a shot. Lapeyrolerie stayed on the floor for several minutes in obvious pain. She was later lifted onto a cart, taken up the Pit ramp and did not return.
Lobos coach Mike Bradbury could not update Lapeyrolerie’s condition after the game.
“I haven’t even seen her yet,” Bradbury said. “At halftime I was told she would not be able to play in the second half. That’s really all I know right now.”
Lapeyrolerie started all of UNM’s 26 games and came into Saturday averaging 11.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
The injury was part of a dismal start for the Lobos, who went 2-for-12 from the field with seven turnovers in the first quarter and trailed by as many as eight points.
It was nothing like the teams’ first meeting this season, when UNM led nearly all the way in an 88-59 road win.
“We needed to start with the mindset that this was going to be a tougher game,” Nunn said, “And we didn’t. Air Force plays so physical and they really set the tone in the first half. In the second half we finally got the energy back that we usually have.”
The score was tied at 25 at halftime, and UNM rallied to grab a 42-39 edge after three quarters. But Emily Conroe scored nine of her team-leading 15 points as the Falcons opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run to lead 48-44 with 6:04 left.
One Conroe free throw was all Air Force could manage the rest of the way.
“This is what you get with Air Force,” Bradbury said. “Since we played them (on Dec. 28), every game they’ve played has been just like this. They’re really, really, really good defensively and they make you grind out every possession. Some people might not think so, but this is a good win for us.”
Beynon finished with 15 points despite 3-for-15 shooting, and Bryan contributed nine points in 26 solid minutes off the bench. Erika Chapman had 13 points and seven rebounds for AFA.