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Lobo women seek chemistry, host Northern Arizona

There’s no substitute for quality parts, even when fitting them together proves to be something of a challenge.

University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury is facing that problem with this season’s roster, continuing to mix and match players as he searches for the Lobos’ most effective rotations. He hasn’t found it yet.

Asked about his starting lineup for Friday night’s home game against Northern Arizona, Bradbury smiled and shrugged.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “The five I tried together (at Thursday’s) practice only lasted about five minutes before we changed it. I guess the fans will just have to show up (Friday) and we’ll all find out who’s starting together.”

Fortunately for Bradbury, the lineup quandary is not a matter of having too few qualified candidates. Four Lobos scored in double figures in Tuesday’s 80-70 win over UC Riverside, but three of them came off the bench. UNM’s starters struggled to find any offensive rhythm as UCR raced to a 13-2 lead.

“We won’t have the five same starters as last game,” Bradbury said. “That much I can tell you.”

Poor start aside, Bradbury was not terribly concerned about what he saw on Tuesday’s game video. New Mexico’s mistakes and shortcomings were fairly typical for a team in its season opener.

Still, finding a cohesive starting unit and developing a substitution pattern has not been as simple as Bradbury might have preferred. His players feel the same way.

“I feel like we’re still trying to figure some things out,” senior post Bride Kennedy-Hopoate said. “We’ve got a lot of new people who are trying to find their roles, especially our four freshmen. They’re still trying to remember everything they’ve been told and where they’re supposed to be – but the talent is definitely there.”

UNM will continue its quest for on-court chemistry against an up-tempo Northern Arizona squad playing its season opener. Bradbury and his staff based much of their scouting on last season’s video, including the Lumberjacks’ victory over Mountain West rival Fresno State to open 2018-19.

“NAU started fast last year and I’m sure they’ll be ready to come after us,” Bradbury said. “They have four starters back, including some good shooters, and they like to get up and down. Our transition defense will be tested severely.”

New Mexico also prefers to push the tempo and posted an 18-8 advantage in fast-break points against UC Riverside. The problem was that it took UNM more than a quarter to find its pace.

“(UCR) just outhustled us,” Kennedy-Hopoate said, “and that shouldn’t happen. We need to set the tone every game and we didn’t have enough energy when that game started.”

The Lobos’ reserves changed that dynamic. Jaedyn De La Cerda, Jayla Everett and Jordan Hosey combined for 39 points off the bench, fueling speculation that one or more of them may start against NAU.

“Anything’s possible,” Bradbury said. “The last lineup we used today had (5-foot-10 guard Najala Howell) playing the No. 4 position, so you tell me.”

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