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Bradbury concerned with Lobo women’s defense late in games

THE GAME DAY BOX FROM WEDNESDAY’S JOURNAL, ABOVE

How do you jump-start a sputtering offense? Play better defense, Mike Bradbury says.

The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team is not exactly mired in a scoring slump, but it does want to put a cold-shooting game in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible. Opportunity one comes Wednesday night when the Lobos (20-4, 10-3 Mountain West) host Utah State (11-13, 6-7) at Dreamstyle Arena.

New Mexico went 2 for 19 from 3-point range and scored just six points in the final five minutes of Saturday’s 77-70 loss at Fresno State. It could be considered a blip on the radar screen considering UNM has averaged 78 points per game in its last three outings.

Bradbury, the Lobos’ third-year coach, was less concerned with his team’s chilly finish at Fresno than with it’s late-game defense. The problems, he said, started on the defensive end of the court.

“We didn’t guard people in the fourth quarter,” he said. “When you don’t get stops, you can’t get into transition and the other team has time to set up its defense. It’s a lot harder to score in those situations.”

Still, there is a correlation between UNM’s 3-point shooting and its win-loss record. The Lobos are shooting a respectable 31 percent from behind the arc in Mountain West games but they’ve struggled when the 3s don’t fall. UNM went a combined 12 for 75 from long range (16 percent) in its losses to UNLV, San Diego State and Fresno State.

Sophomore guard Madi Washington, one of the Lobos’ most effective 3-point shooters at 33 percent accuracy, believes UNM must find other ways to win if its perimeter game goes cold.

“Shooting comes and goes for every team,” Washington said. “You can’t control that, but you can fix defense and rebounding. If we get stops and rebounds, we can get to the basket and everything else starts falling into place.”

Rebounding will be a top priority against Utah State, a team that relies heavily on attacking the offensive glass. Aggies post Shannon Dufficy averages a double-double (15.6 points, 10.3 rebounds) and leads the Mountain West in rebounding. UNM’s Jaisa Nunn is second at 9.2 boards per game.

Bradbury said controlling USU point guard Eliza West may be equally important tonight. West averages just 4.3 points per game but is third in the MWC in assists (5.0 per contest) and effectively runs the show for the Aggies.

UNM’s perimeter defense could get a boost as freshman guard Ahlise Hurst is expected to return. Hurst played just two minutes at Fresno State because of a left ankle sprain.

“It’s sore but much better,” Hurst said after Tuesday’s practice. “It was tough trying to move on it (Saturday) but even tougher not being able to help the team. I definitely plan to be out there (tonight).”

If Hurst’s mobility is limited, Washington and Jaedyn De La Cerda will likely pick up extra minutes, Bradbury said.

“We won’t change anything we do,” he said. “Madi and Jaedyn are good players, they’ll just have to step up.”

New Mexico has dominated the series against Utah State, leading 18-6 overall and 10-1 in Albuquerque. Washington hopes playing at home will give UNM’s shooters extra comfort.

“For some reason we seem to shoot it better here,” Washington said. “Hopefully, that trend will continue.”

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