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Women’s hoops: Starting lineup is still in flux for Lobos

New Mexico’s Antonia Anderson is one of five returning healthy players for the Lobo women this season. She said: “When we all get on the same page, this can be a great team.”

The pieces look impressive but the puzzle is far from finished.

That’s coach Mike Bradbury’s assessment of the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team with 10 days remaining until the Lobos’ exhibition opener. Bradbury continues to shuffle player combinations as he tries to nail down UNM’s most effective rotations.

For the moment, Bradbury’s puzzle has more pieces scattered across the kitchen table than it has in place. Sophomore guard Jayla Everett is the only player with a starting position effectively locked up.

“I couldn’t name another one right now,” Bradbury said. “That’s not the worst thing because we have several players who can play multiple positions, so it takes a while to work through all the lineup combinations. We’ve got flexibility. Now we need to start narrowing things down.”

Three players — guards Najala Howell, Ahlise Hurst and forward Jordan Hosey — have helped their cases with strong play in recent days, Bradbury said. Still, fans are likely to see two different starting lineups for UNM’s exhibition games against Colorado-Colorado Springs and Eastern New Mexico.

Junior Antonia Anderson said roster turnover has fostered competition and some uncertainty where the Lobos’ lineup is concerned. Anderson is one of just five returning healthy players.

“With all the new faces, there’s a lot of learning going on,” Anderson said. “When we all get on the same page, this can be a great team. It’s just taking a while to get there.”

UNM has focused on defense first this fall and the Lobos have things largely in place on that end of the court. With more speed and depth on his roster, Bradbury wants the Lobos to be more aggressive defensively and he hopes to add a few new wrinkles before the regular season starts.

New Mexico will have to adjust to the losses of rim-protecting posts Nike McClure and Jaisa Nunn, however.

“We won’t have Nike back there blocking shots,” Anderson said, “so we’ll have to do a better job playing help defense. I think we can.”

Nunn and McClure were also UNM’s top rebounders last season.

“We’re getting better fast defensively,” Bradbury said, “but rebounding is a concern. Right now that’s a glaring problem we’re working to address.”

Rebounding could, in fact, play a role in what kind of lineup Bradbury chooses to start. He could employ 6-foot-4 Bride Kennedy-Hopoate alongside 6-2 Anderson and/or 6-1 Hosey, for example. Bradbury is considering a faster, more guard-oriented lineup, as well.

“I still don’t know what our best lineup will be,” he said, “but I really like our potential. The next couple weeks of practice are going to be important as far as playing time goes. We’ll see who steps up.”

INJURY UPDATES: Freshman guard Andriana Avent returned to practice this week after a lengthy stay in concussion protocol. Avent will work with UNM’s scout team while she regains her conditioning, Bradbury said.

Freshman post Azaria Robinson (knee) has been cleared for contact in half-court drills and Bradbury hopes she’ll be ready for the Lobos’ exhibition games. Senior point guard Aisia Robertson (knee) is now able to run but has not been cleared for lateral movement or jumping. She hopes to return by midseason.

NO EARLY VIEWING: Fans’ first look at the 2019-20 Lobos will likely come at UNM’s Oct. 27 exhibition game against Colorado-Colorado Springs. The women’s team was not asked to participate in last week’s Cherry-Silver men’s scrimmage at Dreamstyle Arena, Bradbury said, and the Pit will not be available for an open scrimmage prior to Oct. 27. The Lobos will play a closed, officiated scrimmage at the Davalos Center sometime in the next week.

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