Mike Bradbury finally has drawn up a schedule the way he wants it.
The next question is: What will the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team make of it?
Thanks in part to an earlier-than-usual release of next season’s Mountain West schedule, UNM unveiled its entire 2018-19 women’s basketball slate on Monday. It figures to be challenging.
The Lobos, who have just one starter returning from last season’s 25-11 squad, will play at least 16 games against foes who qualified for postseason tournaments in 2017-18. That number could rise if UNM fares well in the Preseason WNIT and its home Lobo Invitational.
Bradbury thinks his team will be up to the challenge.
“I like our pre-conference schedule,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of big-time home games and the travel’s balanced out reasonably well. We’ll be tested but good players like that. We just have to step up.”
The Lobos will play at least 16 home games, including a Nov. 28 battle against Oklahoma at Dreamstyle Arena. It could be UNM’s only home meeting against an NCAA qualifier from last year and a chance to earn some redemption. The Sooners handed the Lobos their first loss in a 105-63 romp in Norman last season. New Mexico was without standout Jaisa Nunn (concussion) for that matchup.
Other non-conference home opponents include New Mexico State and UTEP. The Lobos will host Texas State in round one of the WNIT and could entertain either Auburn or Nicholls State in the second round. Potential third-round and championship sites and matchups have yet to be determined, but the 16-team field includes several postseason qualifiers from last season.
The Lobos will also play their annual home tournament but it will not be held over Thanksgiving weekend as in years past. Instead, UNM will host Sacramento State, Hampton and Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 19-20 at the Pit. New Mexico will take on Sacramento State in the opening round.
Bradbury said switching the tournament date from Thanksgiving was done with future schedules in mind.
“It gives us flexibility to travel on that weekend,” he said. “A lot of exempt tournaments are held over Thanksgiving, which can give you extra games. That won’t impact us this year but it will in 2019-20.”
UNM will also play non-conference road games at Houston, Northern Arizona, New Mexico State and Long Beach State before tipping off Mountain West competition on Jan. 2.
The Mountain West’s unbalanced schedule has New Mexico facing Air Force and 2017-18 MWC tournament champion Boise State just once apiece next season. The Lobos will play each of the league’s remaining eight teams twice.
UNM will break a seven-year streak of opening Mountain West play on the road when it hosts Air Force on Jan. 2.
“I haven’t really broken down the Mountain West schedule yet,” Bradbury said, “but I like having our first and last games at home. Last year they were both on the road and that was tough, so I’m not complaining about this one.”