The University of New Mexico and Navy women’s basketball teams have combined to stare down 19 straight opponents this season.
On Sunday afternoon, someone’s going to blink.
The Lobos (10-0) and Midshipmen (9-0) will square off in a rare mid-December battle of unbeatens at Dreamstyle Arena. The teams have more in common than perfect records as both prefer defensive pressure and up-tempo offense, making for an intruiging showdown.
“We like to do the same things,” UNM senior Alex Lapeyrolerie said. “We both like to run and play fast, so it comes down to who does it best. It should be exciting.”
It’s the first meeting between the two programs, scheduled in large part to allow Navy point guard Hannah Fenske to play in her hometown. The 5-foot-8 senior played prep basketball and soccer at Volcano Vista High School.
But the teams’ respective strong starts – in UNM’s case a school record – have turned the game into a significant opportunity. It’s also required Lobos coach Mike Bradbury to brush up on East Coast basketball as he’s studied the Midshipmen.
“Navy didn’t just stumble onto 9-0,” Bradbury said. “People here don’t get to see many of the teams Navy plays, but those teams are good. We’re about to have our hands full.”
Going into Saturday, UNM and Navy were two of just 14 remaining unbeaten women’s teams in Division I. These two have stayed that way with effective 3-point shooting, good ball security and high-pressure defense.
The Lobos used full-court pressure to break open Wednesday’s 90-56 victory over Texas Tech, but Navy employs full-court defense on a more consistent basis.
“They’ll press off of missed shots, made shots, free throws,” Lapeyrolerie said. “They’ll press off everything. They love to cause havoc.”
UNM worked on press-breakers Saturday at the Pit but spent more time fine-tuning its defense. Navy’s half-court offense resembles what the Lobos typically face against Mountain West foes Wyoming and Colorado State.
“They’re very precise in what they do,” Bradbury said. “They’ll break you down with a lot of screens and look for the open (3-pointer), and they have multiple kids who shoot it very well. We have to communicate on defense or we’ll be in trouble.”
While Navy doesn’t mind playing fast or forcing the issue with defensive pressure, UNM might be best served if today’s game becomes a track meet. The Lobos have scored 86 points or more seven times this season and average 87.5 per game. The Midshipmen have reached 86 points just twice and average 74.6 points.
UNM also has a height advantage today, as Navy’s tallest starter is 5-foot-11 Kaila Clark. Still, the Midshipmen have outrebounded their opponents by 4.6 boards per game.
“They’re a little undersized but they’re fast and they play smart,” Lapeyrolerie said. “Hopefully, we can play a little bit faster, get our fans into the game, and make them uncomfortable. We know we’re in for a battle.”