"I'm so proud of these young ladies," said first-year head coach Yvonne Sanchez. "They've had so much adversity throughout the year, they've stuck together. Anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong and it didn't matter. I told them the entire season for my first year, I wouldn't want to coach any other team, and I feel that way today."
UNM lost both regular season meetings against the Lady Rebels, but on Wednesday the Lobos started with a 5-2 flourish and battled closely in the first half before taking a 26-19 lead with 3:52 left in the first half. UNLV would rally but the Lobos held the advantage at half time.
"You know, we had a little bit of a different game plan (today)," said senior guard Nikki Nelson. "UNLV is really good and they did beat us twice. We were hungry for it. Tournament time is always exciting because anything can happen. So our team was just ready. We came out hard and we fought. It turned out for us this time."
The Lobos would fall behind then use three-point shooting to come back against UNLV (22-9) in the second half, hitting 5-of-11 treys after going a perfect 3-for-3 in the first half.
"I think (the three-pointers) were extremely important," said senior Porche Torrance. "We were down by nine, I think. I just told my teammates to keep fighting, we're still in this. We had eight or nine minutes left. Nikki, Lauren and Caroline, they stepped it up, shot the ball well. We feed off that. The fans helped us out a lot."
In the second half, the Rebels erased the UNM lead within the first few minutes and eventually peaked at 54-45 at the 8:07 mark.
Nelson, who scored 14 points, hit all four of her three-pointer consecutively in UNM's game-clinching rally.
Torrance scored a game-high (and season-high) 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for her seventh double-double of the season. Juniors Caroline Durbin and Lauren Taylor each added 12 points and Durbin pulled down eight rebounds.
UNM shot 21-for-52 (40.4%) for the game and 8-of-14 (57.1%) on three pointers as well as a terrific 11-of-15 (73.3%) from the free throw line.
UNLV shot just 2-of-12 (16.7%) on treys and 23-of55 (41.8%) from the field for the game. The Lobos also outscore the Rebels 14-8 on points off turnovers and 15-12 on second chance points.
As usual, the Lobo women were cheered on by a large contingent of UNM fans, something Torrance said helped the team.
"It's a blessing to have all the fan support that we have here at UNM," Torrance said. " Without them, all the adversity we've been through, ups and downs, they stuck by our sides. We really truly appreciate that because we feed off their energy. That helped us out a lot."
UNM advances to Friday's semifinals at 2:35 pm PST, where they will play six-seed Boise St. which beat 3-seed Colorado State 68-63 Wednesday night.