Anyone for an Old West shootout?
That’s what the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team will be facing when it hosts Denver on Thursday in round one of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at Dreamstyle Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
The Lobos (24-6) and Pioneers (17-13) earned automatic berths into the 64-team WNIT field as the highest finishers in their respective conferences not selected to compete in the NCAA Tournament. UNM finished second in the Mountain West, Denver was third in the Summit League.
Lobos coach Mike Bradbury conceded he knew little about Denver when the WNIT bracket was released late Monday night. Informed that the Pioneers average 80.6 points per game (and allow 76.1), he chuckled.
“There you go then,” he said. “We’re good with playing up-tempo so it should be fun. Hopefully, we can slow them down a little.”
Denver has five players averaging double figures in points led by forward Madison Nelson (16.0 points and 8.9 rebounds). The Pioneers went 1-2 against MWC foes this season, defeating Air Force but losing at Wyoming (78-74) and at Colorado State (84-79). Denver also lost at New Mexico State (66-64) this season.
Bradbury and his coaching staff planned to start studying video of Denver right away, but the Lobos have already begun tournament preparations. They practiced Friday, Saturday and Monday and have high expectations after advancing to the WNIT’s third round last season.
“We won’t really change our rotations or anything,” Bradbury said. “We’re trying to win.”
Winning will be job one but a pair of Lobos can also take aim at some impressive individual achievements.
Senior Jaisa Nunn, coming off a 19-rebound effort against San Diego State, is within striking distance of UNM’s long-standing career rebounds record. Carol Moreland grabbed 982 boards from 1976-80. Nunn is second on the list with 940 and would need the Lobos to make a tournament run to track down Moreland’s mark.
Teammate Jayla Everett needs only an average game against Denver to surpass the program record for points scored by a freshman. Everett, who averages 13.5 points per game, has scored 405 this season. Yvonne McKinnon scored 413 in 1981-82,
New Mexico is one of four Mountain West teams to earn berths in the NCAA Tournament or WNIT. Boise State, the league’s regular-season and tournament champ, received a No. 13 NCAA seed and will face No. 4 Oregon State on its home court in Corvallis.
Wyoming and Fresno State received at-large invitations to compete in the WNIT. Three other UNM opponents from this season — Hartford, Houston and Stephen F. Austin — also are in the WNIT field.