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UNM Women Host Hoops Tourney

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Black Friday will be fraught with danger for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team.

It’s day one of the Lobos’ annual Thanksgiving Tournament, which features one of its best fields in recent memory. UNM, North Texas, St. Bonaventure and No. 8 Georgia will square off in the two-day event.

As one might expect, the bracket’s set to allow the Lobos (4-0) and Bulldogs (5-0) to meet in Saturday night’s championship game. Georgia faces St. Bonaventure (4-1) in today’s first round at 3:30 p.m., and UNM takes on North Texas (0-3) at 5:30 p.m.

Today
UNM Thanksgiving Tournament: No. 8 Georgia vs. St. Bonaventure, 3:30 p.m.; UNM vs. North Texas, 5:30 p.m.
610 AM (UNM-North Texas)

Today’s games are part of a Black Friday triple-header at the Pit. New Mexico’s men’s team hosts Idaho in the nightcap at 8:30 p.m.

It’s a weekend of opportunity for coach Yvonne Sanchez’s Lobo women, who could attract some early arriving men’s basketball fans tonight and earn a shot at a top-10 opponent.

That’s where the danger comes into play.

Winless North Texas comes to Albuquerque with all the makings of a holiday spoiler. The Mean Green have played three quality opponents to the wire, they thumped UNM last season in Texas, and their coach knows Sanchez and the Pit all too well.

“He used to be my boss at New Mexico State,” Sanchez said of first-year UNT coach Mike Petersen. “Trust me, North Texas will come in here ready to go. They won’t back down from anyone.”

Petersen earned his spurs as a women’s basketball coach long before taking over at North Texas. He’s a 300-game winner who most recently led Wake Forest to three postseason berths in four seasons. Petersen also coached at Gonzaga, New Mexico State and TCU, posting an 81-38 record in his four seasons with the Aggies.

Sanchez served as one of Petersen’s assistants assistants in Las Cruces and knows he will have the Mean Green prepped and ready for today’s semifinal.

“Mike’s very familiar with the Pit,” Sanchez said, “and North Texas is a good team. They beat us last year. If we start thinking about Saturday, they’ll probably beat us again.”

Last year’s matchup in Denton holds nothing but bad memories for the Lobos. Post Whitney Johnson went down late in the game with what would prove to be a season-ending knee injury, and the Mean Green pulled away for a 63-50 win.

“They were very competitive, very physical,” Lobo senior Caroline Durbin said. “They wore us down a little, but we’re a different team this year.”

The Lobos are certainly a deeper team with more scoring options. Durbin remains UNM’s leading scorer, but opponents have paid for double-teamming her.

“Caroline doesn’t have to score 20 points for this team to win,” Sanchez said.

If the Lobos are able to exact some payback from North Texas, they’ll undoubtedly face a stiff test in Saturday’s championship game. Georgia is a perennial women’s hoops power under coach Andy Landers, who earned his 800th coaching victory at the school Tuesday night. Landers has coached the Bulldogs for 34 seasons, leading them to 29 NCAA Tournaments and five Final Fours.

One of Georgia’s NCAA appearances included a visit to the Pit in 2003, where the Bulldogs lost a nail-biter to Duke.

“I really like Andy Landers,” Sanchez said, “and I think it’s great he’ll come back to the Pit. Obviously, he has another great Georgia team, so we’re excited to have them here.”

The Bulldogs will open against a St. Bonaventure squad that is coming off a huge season. The Bonnies went 31-4 and reached the Sweet 16 in 2011-12, but took some significant graduation hits. They were picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10 this season.

Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the Lobos know they’ll face a quality opponent Saturday. Still, Sanchez’s players hardly want to miss a chance to play in the championship game or take on a nationally ranked team on their home floor.

“I’d love that opportunity,” freshman Bryce Owens said. “I just feel like we have to play our game, don’t back down and we’ll have a chance to beat anyone.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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