After five straight games away from home, the Lobos (6-2, 0-1 Mountain West) will return to Dreamstyle Arena on Saturday for a conference matchup against Wyoming. It will be UNM’s first home appearance since Nov. 12 and it coincides with a Pack the Pit promotion offering fans $5 admission for bench seating.
The Lobos can’t wait.
“We have missed the Pit,” junior Antonia Anderson said. “We’ve been playing in atmospheres without too many fans and we’ve had to bring our own energy. It’ll be great having our fans to help pump us up.”
The Lobos’ lengthy absence included trips to Las Cruces; El Paso; Cancun, Mexico; and Boise, Idaho. The five-game stretch without a home game is UNM’s longest since 2006-07, when that team finished the regular season with two road games, then played three Mountain West tournament contests and an NCAA Tournament game on neutral courts in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Hartford, Connecticut.
UNM’s current squad went 3-2 on its recent tour but dropped the final two games, including an 83-82 overtime defeat at Boise State on Wednesday. That loss to the two-time Mountain West champion Broncos left the Lobos thinking about what might have been.
“Yeah, it’s kind of frustrating,” Anderson said. “Jordan (Hosey) and I were talking about, ‘If we’d only made those two free throws we missed in overtime …”
The game did not cost the Lobos any confidence, Anderson said, but it did make Saturday’s game that much more important.
“There’s urgency for every game,” Anderson said, “but we know it’s important to get one of these early conference games.”
Wyoming (4-3, 1-0) is coming off a 65-63 win at Air Force that nearly got away. The Cowgirls led by 14 points in the fourth quarter but had to sweat out a potential game-tying jumper that the Falcons missed in the closing seconds.
Wyoming’s roster has changed significantly since last season. Longtime coach Joe Legerski retired and his assistant, Gerald Mattinson, took his place on the bench. His team features senior Taylor Rusk leading a group of primarily sophomores and freshmen.
“They’re younger than usual but talented,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said of the Cowgirls. “They make shots like always, they have a legit No. 5 player (leading scorer Tereza Vitulova) and they’re solid defensively. Typical Wyoming. They’re good.”
UNM, which averages 79.5 points per game, hopes to speed up the Cowgirls, who average 59.7 points per contest.
“We want to get them running a little bit, make them uncomfortable,” Anderson said. “Wyoming is so disciplined. They’ll run their offense for the full 30 seconds if need be. We’d much rather play fast.”
Both teams will return to nonconference play after Saturday’s game. The Mountain West schedule begins again in earnest Jan. 1, and the Lobos will play six games between Saturday and New Year’s Day. They do not want to spend that time fretting over an 0-2 conference start.
“Not at all,” Anderson said. “We’re home and it’s a big Mountain West game. We need to be up for this one.”