New individual posters of University of New Mexico women’s basketball players were hung inside the Davalos Center this week. Photos of Najala Howell and Bride Kennedy-Hopoate were not among them.
Lobos coach Mike Bradbury said Thursday the two seniors are no longer with the team. Howell and Kennedy-Hopoate were not on the bench for UNM’s two most recent games against Wyoming and Northern New Mexico.
“They will not be on the team moving forward,” Bradbury said after Thursday’s practice. “Naj has decided to focus on finishing her master’s degree. I haven’t spoken to Bride yet about her plans but she won’t be with the team.”
Bradbury declined to give many details about the departures, and neither player responded to Journal requests for comment via social media Thursday.
Howell started UNM’s first eight games this season, while Kennedy-Hopoate appeared in all eight with two starts. Both played in the Lobos’ Mountain West opener Dec. 4 at Boise State and participated in practice two days later.
They were not on the bench Saturday when UNM hosted Wyoming.
“They both called me a couple hours before the game to tell me they wouldn’t be there,” Bradbury said. “It wasn’t a case of them just not showing up.”
Bradbury said he met with UNM administrators several times this week regarding the players’ status. Wednesday it was decided they would not rejoin the team.
Not having Howell or Kennedy-Hopoate available as expected was a distraction for UNM’s players against Wyoming, Bradbury said. Sophomore Jayla Everett said there was tension in the team’s locker room at Boise State, as well.
“Something was up and it was a distraction for both our Mountain West games,” she said, “but I feel like it’s behind us now. It’s good that we had the Northern New Mexico game (a 92-44 win Tuesday) to kind of get everyone back on track.”
Saturday the Lobos (7-3) visit Arizona State (7-2), which is receiving votes in both polls this week. The game opens a busy stretch during which UNM will play five games in seven days.
Bradbury’s team now has 11 players available and playing time will increase for some. Point guard Corina Carter and forward Autumn Watts, both freshmen, may see the largest minutes bump, but Everett said veteran players must also elevate their play.
“Some roles are going to change a little bit and we have to step up,” Everett said. “I think especially Jaedyn (De La Cerda), Ahlise (Hurst) and myself. We’re all capable of doing more and now we have that opportunity.”
Howell, who transferred from UTEP, averaged 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists this season. Kennedy-Hopoate, who transferred from Iowa State, averaged 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. Both players sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules.