Courtesy Denver Athletics
Albuquerque, N.M. - The University of Denver women's basketball team made history Thursday night, winning the first postseason game in the school's Division I history. The Pioneers used a dominant second half to defeat the University of New Mexico, 83-75. Denver is now 18-13 overall and advance on to the WNIT second round against the winner of the Idaho at Loyola-Marymount game.
Madison Nelson and Lauren Loven led Denver with 27 and 21 points, respectively. Nelson was 11-of-20 from the floor and 4-of-4 from the line. Loven's shooting numbers weren't eye-popping, but her 3-point shooting in the third quarter was pivotal. She wound up 8-of-21 from the floor and 5-of-18 from three.
Samantha Romanowski played an outstanding overall game with 13 points, nine assists, four rebounds, and 3-of-4 from 3-point land.
New Mexico was led by Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Jaysa Nunn's 26 points and 12 rebounds.
Playing in one of college basketball's best arenas, The Pit, Denver used the full array of its talents throughout the entire game. The Pios hit from distance, made some terrific interior passes for easy buckets, made the hustle plays, and played tremendous defense.
Denver looked right at home from the opening tip. Down 2-0 to start, Denver took a 10-4 lead on a 3-pointer by Nelson with 6:31 left. Later, Haley Simental put the team up five, 17-12, on another three. The Lobos then went on a mini-run of 9-3 to take their final lead of the game, 21-20. Claire Gritt's two free throws gave the Pios a 22-21 lead at the end of the quarter.
The teams went back-and-forth for much of the second quarter, but New Mexico narrowed the gap to two points, 36-34, on a 3-pointer by Nike McClure with 4:11 left. After trading baskets, an underestimated moment occurred when Romanowski launched a gutsy 3-point attempt with 19 seconds left. The Pios had just gotten an offensive rebound and could have run the clock down to zeros. Romanowski's long-range shot found the net and Denver stopped UNM at the defensive end. The lead was 41-36 at the half.
Shrugging off the second-half disappointment at the Summit League tournament, the Pios had a sluggish opening six minutes of the third quarter but their defense still allowed them to stretch the lead to eight, 52-44, on Loven's layup with 4:17 left. After a UNM basket, Loven hit a three to make it a nine-point lead. One got the feeling the final minutes of the third would be big. The Lobos felt the urgency, cutting the lead to five, 59-54, with 1:44 left. It was the closest UNM would get. Loven answered with an enormous three and Nelson had the final bucket of the quarter to make it 64-54 after three.
Denver, 16-0 this season when scoring 80 points or more, was on schedule heading into the fourth. After the Lobos hit a free throw to start the fourth, the Pios got out the daggers. Gritt hit a jumper that was answered by New Mexico. Lightning then struck quickly on consecutive baskets by Nelson, Courtney Smith and another three by Loven. Even with 7:48 left, one got the feeling that the Lobos were reeling and, in fact, they never recovered. They never got closer than eight in a game that wasn't as close as that margin would indicate.
Denver shot 41% from the field (32-of-79) and 33% from 3-point range (11-of-33). The latter was a huge difference in the game as UNM was just 5-of-27 from long range. The Pios made all eight of their foul shots and outrebounded the Lobos, 51-45.