The Lobos (13-1, 1-0 Mountain West) are off to their best 14-game start and have set numerous individual and team scoring records along the way. Still, Lobos coach Mike Bradbury knows the significance of sending 2017 out on a high note.
It won’t be easy. UNM hosts Nevada in a matinee today at Dreamstyle Arena. The Lobos are coming off long bus rides to and from Air Force and had relatively short preparation for the much-improved Wolf Pack (8-4, 1-0).
Despite being picked to finish 10th in the Mountain West’s preseason poll, Nevada has shown some sharp teeth under first-year coach Amanda Levens. The Wolf Pack blew out Fresno State 90-73 in Thursday’s league opener, but UNM coach Mike Bradbury had seen enough to be wary of Nevada before that contest.
“That’s a really talented team that shoots the 3 really well,” Bradbury said. “They went 9-for-15 from 3-point range against Connecticut, and you won’t find a higher-level defense than Connecticut. Nevada’s offense is really good this year.”
The Wolf Pack also can pound the ball inside effectively, thanks in part to a pair of New Mexico players. Los Lunas High grad Teige Zeller, at 6-foot-2, is Nevada’s leading scorer at 14.1 points per game and has enjoyed a breakout senior season.
“Zeller is a lot like their team overall,” Bradbury said. “She’s stepped it up and is really playing well.”
Cibola grad Kristin Dearth (6-3) is chipping in 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game off the bench.
Nevada also has talented forwards Terae Briggs (6-3) and AJ Cephas (6-feet). They pose a challenge for UNM, which starts only one player (6-3 Jaisa Nunn) over 6 feet.
“They gave us trouble inside last year,” Bradbury said, “and they haven’t given up anything as far as their talent and athleticism.”
UNM figures to have advantages of its own, particularly in the quickness department. Guards Cherise Beynon and N’Dea Flye figure to have opportunities to push the ball in transition, provided the Lobos can hold their own on the boards.
“Keeping the ball in front of us on defense is a big key,” Bradbury said. “If we do, we’ll have a chance to rebound and then push. If we don’t, it probably won’t be pretty.”
UNM has largely had its way in the series, owning an 8-3 advantage over the Wolf Pack, including 4-1 in Albuquerque. The Lobos also are 10-0 at the Pit this season.
Still, this year’s Wolf Pack appears more dangerous than recent editions, sporting an RPI ranking of 101 that is second-best among Mountain West teams. (UNM’s RPI is 28 — down 10 spots after Thursday’s win over 0-12 Air Force.)
Because of the MWC’s unbalanced schedule, New Mexico and Nevada square off just once this season, adding extra significance to today’s meeting.