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UNM women’s hoops: Anderson poised for big season

It’s hard to wipe the persistent smile off Antonia Anderson’s face these days.

A 6-foot-2 sophomore for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, Anderson has more to smile about than she did last season. In fact, no one may be more eager for Saturday’s opening session of full-team practices to arrive.

“I’m definitely expecting a lot of success this year,” Anderson said, “and I’m very excited about my role.”

It’s not at all that Anderson played an insignificant role during UNM’s 25-11 campaign in 2017-18. She appeared in 32 games and was often the first player off the bench, averaging 4.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and amassing a team-best 34 blocks.

The only problem was, nearly all of Anderson’s minutes came at the center position — a spot where she had little or no previous experience. UNM’s roster was thin at post, so when starter Jaisa Nunn was in foul trouble or needed a rest, it was Anderson (or A.T. as she’s called) to the rescue.

Smiles were relatively rare during practice as Anderson tried to learn and adapt to her role.

“She was a real trooper,” Lobos coach Mike Bradbury said. “A.T. played completely out of position all year and never complained, but people are going to see a different side of her this season.”

Bradbury and his staff have restocked the roster with posts, and Anderson’s guard/forward designation is suddenly fitting. She’s worked at both the 3-guard and forward spots during the offseason and is making a strong case to start at one of them.

An unusual combination of length and quickness make Anderson a difficult matchup. She’s also worked diligently to improve her perimeter shooting and has shown a much-improved touch from 3-point range.

“In high school I was mostly a guard,” Anderson said, “but I posted up a lot against smaller players. I’ll still do that and I think playing inside last year expanded my game. But I like being on the perimeter, too, where I can attack the basket or shoot.”

Anderson has impressed in team and position-group workouts to the point that Nunn is looking forward to spending more time on the floor alongside her.

“I’m getting used to her playing at the four (position) now,” Nunn said. “She’s so long and athletic, we’re starting to see how much game she has. A.T.’s going to have a big year.”

Bradbury agreed and emphasized that returning Anderson to her natural position(s) is not the only reason for high expectations.

“Her improvement from last season has been tremendous,” Bradbury said. “She’s put in the work. I think she’ll be much better.”

Does that mean more frequent smiles?

“I hope so,” Anderson said with a laugh. “For me it’s really about being comfortable, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what this team can do. Our energy level’s higher, our athleticism is so much better and we have good returners who know what it takes to win. I can’t wait to get started.”