ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lobos Confident Vs. Lady Raiders
Big sister returns to the Pit tonight.
That’s more or less how UNM women’s basketball coach Yvonne Sanchez thinks of Texas Tech, which has had all the better of its rivalry with the Lobos through the years.
The schools are relatively close geographically, field two of the nation’s most popular women’s basketball programs and both have built traditions of success. Still, Sanchez says, Texas Tech-New Mexico has been a rivalry in name only.
“Everyone calls it a rivalry,” she said, “but it’s been a one-sided rivalry. It’s still a game we look forward to and one that helps us, but we’d like to get to a position where it’s a little more even.”
History is certainly on the Lady Raiders’ side coming into the Thursday night matchup. They hold a 13-2 advantage in the series, including a 5-2 edge at the Pit.
The past two games have been particularly one-sided. Texas Tech hammered UNM 80-53 at the Pit in 2011 and rolled to a 69-43 win in Lubbock last year.
The Lobos haven’t forgotten.
“We’ve watched the film of last year’s game more than once,” senior guard Caroline Durbin said. “It wasn’t pretty.”
Could tonight’s game be more of the same? Coming off a season-opening win at Arizona State, the Lady Raiders certainly have the talent and experience to extend their mastery over UNM.
But little sister has something else in mind.
“We’re ready,” Lobo senior Jourdan Erskine said. “It’s a great challenge, but it’s going to be fun. We’re just ready to show what we have.”
Durbin believes a combination of factors will help UNM close the gap on Texas Tech.
“For the returners, we’ve definitely learned from experience,” she said. “We know they’re going to come after us with pressure; we just can’t make the same mistakes. We have to take our time against the press, but score when we do beat it.”
UNM also has improved its depth and ball-handling since last season, but those improvements will be put to the test by the high-pressure Lady Raiders.
With that in mind, Sanchez has forced her players to work against full-court pressure this week, that being applied by UNM’s male practice squad. If nothing else, it served as a confidence builder.
“The guys really went after us hard,” freshman point guard Bryce Owens said, “and I think that’s helped a lot. I haven’t seen one sign of fear from our players. We’re very excited to play Texas Tech.”
The Lady Raiders will bring a formidable lineup that includes standout returnees Casey Morris, Kelsi Baker and Monique Smalls. They also added Junior College All-American forward Jackie Patterson, who was recently named Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
“Their posts are good, and their guards are big and physical,” Sanchez said. “They’ll put pressure on us inside.”
That said, Sanchez wouldn’t mind taking her chances in a half-court game.
“We can’t give them transition layups,” she said. “We have to handle their pressure, sprint back on defense and make them run their offense. We know what happens when they start getting easy baskets.”
NOTES: UNM has two players on its roster, sophomore Antiesha Brown and junior Ebony Walker, who transferred from Texas Tech. Neither is yet eligible to play, though Brown played the role of Morris during practice drills this week. Ironically, neither Brown nor Walker practiced Wednesday. Both hit their heads on the floor during recent practices.
Tonight’s game will be a homecoming for Tech sophomore Amber Battle. The Cibola High graduate averaged 7.4 minutes and 2.1 points per game last season. She played four minutes against Arizona State but did not score.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal