Looking ahead to next week’s Mountain West tournament might be understandable at this point, but the UNM women’s basketball team is not going there.
The Lobos can hardly afford to think about who their first-round opponent might be come Sunday. Thursday night’s regular-season finale at Utah State has to be first and foremost on their minds.
New Mexico (14-16, 5-12 Mountain West) could still draw any of four opponents, depending on what happens Thursday around the Mountain West. UNM stands in 10th place, one game behind Colorado State and Air Force, who face each other on the Falcons’ home court.
Nevada and San Diego State are vying for the No. 6 seed and also square off Thursday in San Diego. UNM could yet draw Nevada, SDSU, Colorado State or Air Force in the MWC tournament’s first round.
“There’s so many scenarios it makes my head hurt,” Lobo coach Mike Bradbury said. “I don’t even want to think about it yet. We need to just try to win our game and I’m pretty sure someone will tell us when our (tournament) game is and who we’re playing.”
UNM would be well-served to focus on the task at hand. Losers of three straight games, the Lobos need a shot of momentum if they hope to make any sort of run at the conference tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Facing last-place Utah State (7-21, 2-15) would seem like a prime opportunity, but New Mexico’s erratic play seems to make no assumption safe. The Lobos have suffered through at least one bad quarter in each of their last three games. They had two in Monday’s 79-66 loss to Air Force, and Bradbury was not at all happy with his team’s first-half effort.
“We need to play as hard as we can for four quarters,” he said. “If we do that against Utah State, that will be great. I’ll take whatever happens.”
Seniors Aisia Robertson and Jordan Hosey both said their team was not “locked-in” during the first half against Air Force. UNM looked sluggish on both ends of the court and hit just 10 field goals while committing 14 turnovers.
The Lobos played considerably better after halftime, but it was too little, too late. New Mexico must avoid another slow start against deliberate Utah State.
“A faster pace would help us immensely,” Bradbury said. “Utah State will push it occasionally but defense is their strength. They want to play a half-court game.”
UNM’s starting guards, Robertson, Jaedyn De La Cerda and Ahlise Hurst, typically look to create transition opportunities whenever possible. The Lobos can push the pace even more by inserting ultra-quick Corina Carter into the lineup. Carter’s minutes have increased of late and she’s averaged 6.6 points and 3.2 assists over her last five games.
The down side is that adding quickness sometimes costs UNM on the boards. Air Force racked up 16 offensive rebounds Monday, often preventing the Lobos from pushing the pace.
“Rebounding will be a big deal (against Utah State),” Bradbury said, “and that’s another thing that’s all about effort.”
Robertson, who is coming off a career-best 30-point outing against Air Force, is nonetheless ready to put that unpleasant loss behind her.
“You never know what can happen in the tournament,” she said. “We just have to get ourselves right before we get there.”