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UNM women try to work through frustrations

Fresno State will have to wait – for a few days at least.

After Wednesday’s frustrating 81-80 home loss to San Jose State, the UNM women’s basketball team postponed game preparation in favor of self improvement. The Lobos visit Fresno State next Wednesday but they haven’t begun to study the Bulldogs just yet.

“We’re spending three days entirely on us,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said Friday. “We had kind of a break in our schedule and we’ve added some new wrinkles. This gives us time to really integrate things.”

New Mexico endured a frantic schedule prior to the holidays (eight games in a 16-day stretch) but is now in the midst of the quietest portion of its season, playing just once in 19 days.

Bradbury sees it as a chance to sharpen his team’s execution and shake off the effects of a three-game losing streak. UNM (9-7) has dropped its first three Mountain West games for the first time since 2011-12, but Bradbury and his players are not in panic mode. The Lobos’ three conference losses came by a combined nine points.

“We’re 0-3 and people are saying it’s the end of the world, gloom and doom,” Bradbury said. “The thing is, I feel like we’re two baskets away from being 3-0 because if we didn’t lose in overtime at Boise State, we wouldn’t have let down against Wyoming. We’re not the worst team in the country all of a sudden. We just have to keep working and find a way to win these close games.”

UNM could easily have three more victories, including two in MWC play. The Lobos missed late shots in one-point losses to Boise State and San Jose State and had a potential game-winner by Jayla Everett waved off because of an offensive foul call against Loyola Marymount. Controversial late calls by officials played roles in two of the one-point defeats.

Frustrating as they’ve been, Bradbury said his team cannot afford to focus on those outcomes.

“No, we’ve been inconsistent with our effort,” he said, “and hanging our heads is not going to fix it. In that respect, I like what I’ve seen at practice this week.”

Bradbury recently added a trapping, half-court zone defense to his team’s repertoire and it paid dividends against San Jose State. The Lobos forced 21 turnovers that led directly to 31 points.

“I love that defense,” sophomore Jayla Everett said. “You have to trust each other but it’s aggressive and we’re catching on to it. I think it’s a good fit for us.”

UNM’s primary problem against San Jose State was a dreadful third quarter during which it turned the ball over seven times and gave up too many easy points. The Lobos outscored SJSU 61-46 in the first, second and fourth quarters combined but they were clobbered (35-19) in the third.

“That third quarter was really disappointing,” Bradbury said, “because we played about as well as we have all season for the other 30 minutes.”

Consistent effort and steadier perimeter shooting will be necessary if UNM is to climb back into the Mountain West race. With relatively little height, the guard-oriented Lobos need to convert open 3-point looks. They’ve been inconsistent from beyond the arc this season, hitting 31 percent as a team.

“We all need to work on our shots,” said Everett, one of several Lobos who stayed after Friday’s practice for extra repetitions. “We miss too many on open looks and it’s coming back to bite us, especially in these tight games.”

WILLING TO SHARE: No one can reasonably accuse UNM of playing selfish basketball. The Lobos posted 27 assists on 30 made baskets against San Jose State, including 13 by point guard Aisia Robertson.

“I’ve rarely seen 90 percent in a game,” Bradbury said. “That tells you we shared the ball and had good shot selection.”

For the season, UNM ranks 12th nationally with 243 total assists. The Lobos have assists on 54 percent of their field goals.

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