By George Hronich
For Enchantment Sports
The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team winneth its Mountain West opener — because of its ability to taketh away.
The Lobos forced 30 turnovers on a frigid Wednesday night at Dreamstyle Arena to subdue the Air Force Falcons 78-57.
Freshman Jayla Everett scored a game-high 19 points as UNM (11-1, 1-0 MW) used several small runs to gradually pull away from a young and scrappy Air Force squad (4-8, 0-1).
Aisia Robertson, the junior transfer from Kansas, added 15 points, and sophomore Jaedyn de la Cerda and freshman Shai McGruder provided both offensive and defensive sparks off the bench to assist the Lobos.
UNM never trailed in the game and led by as many as 23 points in the second half, thanks largely to its defense that limited the Falcons to 39.7 percent shooting from the floor, including just 8.3 percent from the 3-point line (1 of 12).
Air Force also contributed to its own demise by hitting just 10 of 19 free throws (52.6 percent).
But the Lobos’ own miscues (19 turnovers) and cold shooting (2-for-15 from beyond the arc for 13.3 percent and 14-for-24 from the free-throw line for 58.3 percent), prevented them from putting away the game earlier.
De la Cerda scored 11 points for the game and had four steals — all in the second quarter. McGruder added nine points, nine rebounds and two steals. Thanks to their play in the second quarter, UNM went on a 19-5 run that extended its 18-16 edge with 1:01 left in the first quarter to a 37-21 advantage with 1:44 left in the half.
The Falcons scored the last four points before intermission, thanks to a couple of careless Lobo turnovers, to cut UNM’s lead to 37-25.
UNM appeared poised to take control in the third quarter with several mini-runs, but eight turnovers stalled those runs. Several of the errors were due to the Lobos seemingly looking to make the flashy pass or play, rather than the smart play or basic play.
Emily Conroe scored 15 points to lead Air Force. Haley Jones added 13 points and nine rebounds, and Kaelin Immel added 13 points and five rebounds.
The Falcons, however, never were able to mount a serious threat. Lobo coach Mike Bradbury emptied his bench in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to get all his players some minutes.
Everett also had three blocks for New Mexico. Senior graduate transfer Nike McClure had five points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, and senior Jaisa Nunn contributed eight points and nine rebounds.
UNM showed a defensive prowess that was lacking during conference play last season that should help the team compete for a league title.
The Lobos’ next two games are on the road in Nevada as they go to Reno and Las Vegas to play the Wolf Pack and Rebels, respectively. They’re two early but important road gamesfor the Lobos to stay at or near the top of conference standings.