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Lobo women: UNM faces tough schedule

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The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team will effectively get four preseason games during its 10-day tour of Italy this month.

UNM needs to make them count.

Based on the regular-season schedule released late Thursday, the Lobos will need all the preseason work they can get. New Mexico faces a rugged first month in 2014-15, taking on DePaul, Texas A&M, Stanford and Texas in the first four weeks.

It is a stiff challenge for a team coming off an injury-plagued 2013-14 season that ended with an 11-19 record. But Lobos coach Yvonne Sanchez feels her squad will be better equipped to face some of women’s basketball’s traditional powers.

“There are some very good teams, especially early,” Sanchez said. “but I think this schedule will make us better and I think we’re ready for it. Our returning players have elevated their games and we’ve added some players who will definitely help us.”

Even with its marquee opponents, Sanchez does not believe her team’s schedule is quite as loaded as last season’s. UNM went 0-5 against Texas, Stanford, Colorado, Miami and Texas Tech in 2013-14, also losing post Ebony Walker to a season-ending injury in the season’s third game.

The Lobos never really recovered, going 6-13 against Mountain West opponents, although 10 of those losses were by six points or fewer.

“Losing Ebony hurt,” Sanchez said, “but I think last year was more about youth than injuries. We put ourselves in position to win so many times and couldn’t finish. But I really think all those close games are going to help us this year.”

UNM opens 2014-15 with three games at DePaul’s Maggie Dixon Classic, Nov. 14-16. The Lobos tip off the season against Texas-Pan American then face Texas A&M and host DePaul. The Aggies advanced to the NCAA’s Elite Eight last season after defeating the Blue Demons in the Sweet 16.

The Lobos play their home opener Nov. 24 against Stanford, which reached the Final Four last season. The Cardinal also clobbered UNM 75-41 in Palo Alto last season but star All-American forward Chiney Ogwumike has since moved on to the WNBA.

“Stanford is still Stanford,” Sanchez said, “but getting them at the Pit will be fun for the fans and our players. It’s exciting.”

The non-conference schedule becomes a bit more moderate after the Stanford game. New Mexico’s annual Thanksgiving tournament includes Boston University, UC Riverside and Stephen F. Austin.

UNM visits Texas (NCAA second round last season) and New Mexico State to begin December, then hosts UTEP (WNIT finalist), Cal Poly-SLO and Northern Arizona before tipping off Mountain West play on New Year’s Eve.

Much like their nonconference schedule, the Lobos’ MWC slate starts with a difficult road test. They’ll visit defending conference tournament champ Fresno State and Colorado State before coming home to face San Diego State.

The unbalanced league schedule leaves UNM with just one game apiece against Nevada (at home) and San Jose State (away) this season. The MWC tournament will be March 9-13, with women’s games beginning on Monday and the title game Friday.

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