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Forget the MWC Tournament; it’s all WNIT from here on out

University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury and the Lobos play against Denver in a WNIT first-round game on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit. (Journal file)

The worst part was they never saw it coming.

Coach Mike Bradbury was unable to even elicit responses from his University of New Mexico women’s basketball players after last week’s overtime loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament quarterfinals.

“I think it was shock,” Bradbury said Tuesday. “I honestly think they were shocked that we didn’t win that game.”

The upside was the Lobos had more than a week to recover. When UNM takes the court Thursday against Denver in a WNIT first-round game at Dreamstyle Arena, any emotional baggage from the MWC tournament will be long gone.

In fact, Bradbury and his players had already turned the page by Tuesday’s practice in the Pit. The mood was upbeat and the Lobos were focused on the task at hand.

“Hey, it’s a blessing to be playing in March,” sophomore Antonia Anderson said. “Our focus is pretty simple now – play hard, win games.”

Neither Bradbury nor his players would deny some disappointment over failing to win a Mountain West tournament title or an NCAA berth. But in some respects, the upcoming WNIT may offer greater opportunities for UNM.

Not only will the Lobos (24-6) play at home Thursday, they could earn additional Pit games if they advance and attendance is good. It’s a more promising position than the ones in which MWC champ Boise State and WAC champ New Mexico State find themselves as respective 13 and 14 NCAA seeds. The Broncos play at No. 4 Oregon State this weekend, while the Agggies visit No. 3 Iowa State.

UNM also will be without starting point guard Aisia Robertson (torn left ACL) for this postseason and likely at least part of 2019-20, which makes the WNIT that much more challenging. Robertson was injured in the Lobos’ regular-season finale and did not play against San Diego State.

“It’s not an excuse, but it was hard for us,” Bradbury said. “We basically had one practice to adjust to not having a player who had the ball in her hands about 80 percent of the time. Now we’ve had some time to change a few things.”

Sophomore Jaedyn De La Cerda and freshman Jayla Everett will continue to share point guard duties, Bradbury said. Both figure to be tested against high-scoring Denver (17-13), which averages 80.6 points per game and will push the pace and launch 3-pointers at every opportunity.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being a 100-95 kind of game,” Bradbury said.

Bradbury and his players hope fans will be as energized as they are about a potential WNIT run. The Lobos advanced to round three last season and hope to improve on that performance.

“By the time we got on the plane to come home (from the MWC tournament), I was looking ahead,” senior Nike McClure said. “The season goes on, we get to see our favorite fans in the world again and we can still win something. I’m excited.”

TICKET INFO: Ticket prices for WNIT games are $10 for adults and $4 for UNM students and youth (ages 3-18). Children ages 2 and under are admitted free.

UNM season ticket-holders can protect their usual seats by coming to the Dreamstyle Arena ticket office or by calling 925-5626 before 5 p.m. today. All seats not protected will then be made available to the public.

BRACKET INFO: UNM’s portion of the 64-team WNIT bracket is composed primarily of Western schools. The UNM-Denver winner will face the Loyola-Marymount-Idaho survivor in round two. MWC rivals Fresno State and Wyoming also are in the same portion of the bracket and could face UNM in rounds three and four if all three teams continue to advance.