No style points will be awarded, but playing style may well determine the outcome of Wednesday night’s Colorado State-New Mexico women’s basketball game.
The up-tempo Lobos (10-8, 1-4 Mountain West) and slow-it-down Rams (8-8, 2-3) will clash at Dreamstyle Arena, and both teams will do their best to dictate the pace. UNM ranks second in the league in scoring (76.8 points per game), while CSU is second in fewest points allowed (61.6 per game).
But as much as UNM coach Mike Bradbury would love to engage CSU in a shootout, he’s not expecting a high-scoring affair.
“You can’t really force them to shoot early in the shot clock,” Bradbury said of the Rams, “and they hardly ever do. CSU is going to run its offense, take care of the ball and play great defense. It’s really hard to score 80 (points) against a team like that.”
That doesn’t mean the Lobos won’t try. UNM leads the Mountain West in forcing turnovers and has been even more disruptive since it began employing a trapping half-court zone several games ago. Lobos opponents have averaged 21.5 turnovers per game, and many have allowed UNM to attack the basket in transition.
“If we’re aggressive on defense, we can control the pace,” sophomore guard Jaedyn De La Cerda said. “I feel like our zone helps because not many teams run it like we do. It’s been a good addition for us.”
Unfortunately, there is a down side. Zone defenses make defensive rebounding more difficult, and UNM is not a particularly adept rebounding team. In Mountain West games, the Lobos rank last in rebound margin at minus-7.0 per game.
Bradbury believes the trade-off has been worthwhile.
“Rebounding is harder when you play zone,” he said, “but when we played the other way (primarily man-to-man defense), we didn’t have an opportunity to rebound because the other team was scoring every time. There were no defensive rebounds.”
The Lobos and Rams find themselves in similar positions, trying to work their way up in the Mountain West standings after some hard-to-swallow defeats. UNM’s four MWC losses are by a combined 12 points with two coming in overtime. CSU’s three league losses are by a combined 18 points, including a 58-53 setback against San Jose State on Saturday.
UNM is coming off its first conference win, a 75-53 decision Saturday at Air Force. The Lobos were in high spirits at Tuesday’s practice, and De La Cerda believes the team can ultimately benefit from a frustrating 0-4 Mountain West start.
“The big thing we learned is to stay together and keep working,” she said. “We outplayed the top teams for most of those games, but we had letdowns where we weren’t playing together. If we work hard and stay focused, we can beat anyone in the conference.”
With home games this week against CSU and UNLV (8-8, 4-1), the Lobos have a chance to build momentum and pick up ground in the conference standings. UNM has dropped its last three games at the Pit, however.
“We just need to play hard the entire game and, hopefully, see some shots drop,” Bradbury said. “We all feel better after getting a win and practice has been good. Now we need to put a full game together.”