LAS CRUCES – It’s often said you can throw out the record books for a rivalry game. UNM women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury is the latest to say it.
Bradbury’s Lobos (3-0) visit Rio Grande rival New Mexico State (1-2) in the Pan American Center on Sunday and, yes, it’s an unbeaten team taking on one with a losing record. Bradbury’s reaction: So what?
“New Mexico State has played three down-to-the-wire games,” he said, “and they could just as easily be 3-0. They’ve probably got two of the best guards we’ll see all season and they’ll be highly motivated. We’re expecting a tight one.”
UNM has won the last four games in the longtime series and dominated both of last season’s meetings. Still, Lobos junior Jaedyn De La Cerda – the only native New Mexican on either roster – shares Bradbury’s expectation that today’s installment will be hard-fought and emotional.
“I know it’ll be competitive,” De La Cerda said. “New Mexico State’s talented and it’s a rivalry game. Everyone gets up for this, but it’s especially cool for me, being the only New Mexico kid in the game.”
De La Cerda has reason to be excited. She scored a team-best 21 points in last season’s 75-50 UNM win at the Pan Am Center, and her parents are planning to make the drive from Roswell to Las Cruces for today’s game.
“It’ll be fun,” De La Cerda said, “as long as we stay focused and follow the game plan.”
A big part of that plan revolves around slowing down NMSU guards Gia Pack and Aaliyah Prince, which Bradbury concedes is more easily said than done. The two guards average 22 and 17.7 points per game, respectively, and Pack has had some particularly big games against the Lobos.
“We’ll devote some extra resources and try to guard them the best we can,” Bradbury said. “We’re not going to shut them down, but we have to contest shots and make them work for everything. That’s a priority.”
The Lobos don’t necessarily have a primary focus on offense, unlike in Tuesday’s 81-71 win over Houston. In that game, guards Jayla Everett and Corina Carter were in attack mode to counter the Cougars’ relentless pressure.
New Mexico State may also press the Lobos at times, and the Aggies certainly don’t mind playing at a fast pace. But Bradbury is more inclined to let UNM’s offense play at its own pace against the Aggies.
“We don’t really have an identity yet,” he said. “I just want to see us play really hard and keep building. We’ll adjust according to how the game goes.”
Just as NMSU’s record could easily be better, UNM’s could easily include a loss or two. The Lobos had to escape double-digit deficits to win their first two games over UC Riverside and Northern Arizona, and they’ve employed three different starting lineups.
But UNM opened with three outstanding quarters against Houston, building a 70-44 lead before coasting to the finish line.
“Every game I feel like we’ve taken a big step forward,” De La Cerda said. “We have a lot of new players, but we’re getting to know what everyone can do. We just have to keep working. This game will be a good test.”