This one has been circled on the calendar for quite some time.
Never mind that Wednesday night’s women’s basketball game at Dreamstyle Arena is an early showdown between the Mountain West’s last two unbeaten teams: New Mexico (14-1, 2-0) and Boise State (8-5, 2-0).
The Lobos have been looking forward to seeing the Broncos since March, when Brooke Pahukoa’s buzzer-beating jumper sparked Boise State’s run to a MWC tournament title and an NCAA appearance. It also ended New Mexico’s season with a 64-62 loss.
“It was heartbreaking to watch,” recalled Lobo junior Jaisa Nunn, one of three UNM players who missed the tournament contest because of injury. “It’s always that kind of game when we play Boise State, both teams come hard and it’s super-competitive. I’m sure it will be a war (Wednesday), too. I’m looking forward to it. We all are.”
Lobo coach Mike Bradbury said he enjoys the challenge of coaching against Boise State’s Gordy Presnell and the versatile Broncos.
“They play really hard,” Bradbury said, “and they don’t have any problem changing things up numerous times during the course of game. With Boise State, you have to prepare for everything.”
The good news for UNM is that Lobo-killers Pahukoa, point guard Yaiza Rodriguez and post Marijke Vandershaaf won’t be in the lineup. Pahukoa and Rodriguez were seniors last season, and Vandershaaf is out for the season with an injury.
Still, the Broncos have already shown themselves worthy of a No. 1 ranking in the MWC’s preseason poll. Led by sharpshooting Riley Lupfer and senior wing Shalen Shaw, Boise State opened conference play with impressive wins at Colorado State and at home against UNLV. Lupfer was named Mountain West Player of the Week after scoring 28 points against the Lady Rebels.
“They’re very talented, defending champions and have already beaten two of the best teams in our league,” Bradbury said. “Different personnel but they play the same way and they’re very effective.”
The Broncos are particularly effective in two aspects of the game: defense and rebounding. They limited Colorado State and UNLV to 58 and 60 points, respectively, easily lead the Mountain West in rebounding margin at plus-8.8 per game.
“(Bradbury) has really emphasized rebounds with us this week,” Nunn said. “All five of us have to go to the boards and really box out. If Boise State dominates the boards, you end up playing their game and we don’t want that.”
The Lobos, who average 85.5 points per game — 25.6 more than the Broncos typically allow — would prefer to make Boise State play up-tempo.
Regardless of which team sets the tone, Bradbury expects the game to exceed the usual intensity level for an early January game.
“Yeah, it’s early,” he said, “but first place is on the line and it’s always important to play well against the top contenders in your conference. We’ll be geared-up and I’m sure they will, too. Games like this are exciting.”
NOTES: UNM continues to receive votes in both Top 25 polls but has not yet cracked the rankings. The Lobos got 16 points in Tuesday’s USA Today Coaches Poll, good enough for 31st. UNM’s national RPI ranking was 23 as of Tuesday.
Women: Boise State at UNM
7 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM