UNM Enters Having Won Two in a Row
If you can’t beat ’em, kill them with kindness.
Such seemed to be the strategy for the UNM women’s basketball team Friday.
The Lobos had nothing but complimentary things to say about today’s opponent, San Diego State. The Mountain West Conference co-leading Aztecs visit the Pit for a 6 p.m. showdown.
“We know they’re a very good team,” UNM point guard Bryce Owens said. “This game is a real test for us.”
Lobos coach Yvonne Sanchez had even more roses to toss San Diego State’s way, especially when asked about senior guard Chelsea Hopkins.
“Chelsea Hopkins is not only the best point guard in the conference,” Sanchez said, “she’s one of the best in the region. She absolutely makes that team go.”
If it sounds like sandbagging, the Lobos have cause. San Diego State (13-5, 4-1) has been a major thorn in New Mexico’s side of late. The Aztecs have won eight of the past 10 meetings, including four straight in the Pit.
SDSU also beat UNM three times last season and ended the Lobos’ Cinderella run in the MWC tournament with a convincing 57-43 win in the championship game.
“Until somebody knocks them off, they’re the best team in the conference,” Sanchez said.
Consider the point made.
Still, Sanchez and her players stopped well short of promising Aztecs coach Beth Burns a path of rose petals on the Pit ramp. Burns preaches that winners run up the ramp after games in the Pit, and the veteran coach has jogged while her players cheered each of the past four seasons.
The Lobos prefer not to witness another Burns victory jog, but stopping it will be a tough assignment. The Aztecs’ one-two punch of Hopkins and Courtney Clements accounts for roughly 30 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists per game.
Hopkins recorded her third triple-double of the season against Nevada on Wednesday.
“She’s tough,” said Owens, who will draw at least part of the defensive assignment on Hopkins. “I have to play good defense on her and try to get her out of her game, but I know I can’t get my head down with her. She’s going to make some plays.”
Sanchez hopes those plays will be limited and will come from half-court sets. The Aztecs excel in transition and can score in bunches if allowed to set the pace.
“They want up-tempo basketball,” Lobo junior Sara Halasz said. “If we can contain them and make them play half-court, our chances will be a lot better.”
Despite their cautious comments, the Lobos (10-7, 2-2) come into tonight’s game with a fair degree of confidence. They’ve won two straight and seem to be settling into a rhythm after numerous lineup changes.
“I do see things coming together for us,” Halasz said. “It’s exciting to have a big game like this right now, especially at home. We’re up for the challenge.”
COURTING A CROWD: Sanchez said today’s game was scheduled at 6 p.m. to avoid conflicting with the UNM men’s 2 p.m. game at San Diego State.
“We’re hoping for an assist from our crowd,” she said. “Hopefully, fans can watch the men’s game on TV then come to ours.”
SICK AND INJURED: Senior Caroline Durbin (illness) and sophomore Antiesha Brown (hamstring) remain questionable for today’s game. Neither practiced Friday, but Sanchez remains hopeful they’ll be ready by tonight.
“Caroline wanted to practice but I sent her home to rest,” Sanchez said. “Antiesha felt better (Friday), too, but I didn’t want to push her. We’ll see how she warms up and go from there.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal