Lobo LaTora Duff plans big season, but must start without twin sister - Albuquerque Journal

Lobo LaTora Duff plans big season, but must start without twin sister

Lobo LaTora Duff shoots over Colorado State’s Cali Clark during action last March at the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

LaTora Duff has never played as a solo act, but that is about to change.

Part of the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team’s senior twin sister tandem, Duff is preparing to open the 2021-22 season without her sibling in uniform.

LaTascya Duff underwent non-basketball-related surgery Aug. 10 and will miss at least the nonconference portion of the Lobos’ upcoming season. LaTascya said she has a follow-up appointment scheduled Oct. 28 that may shed more light on whether she can return to action this season.

“We’ll see,” LaTascya said after a Lobos practice this week. “I’m feeling better. I’m here working on ball-handling and shooting, but I’m not in basketball shape. It’s a process.”

LaTascya declined to give details about her surgery except to say it addressed a lingering health issue. Last season’s Mountain West Sixth-Player of the Year said she appreciates the support she’s received from UNM fans and looks forward to seeing them at the Pit this season.

LaTascya Duff

LaTora, on the other hand, plans to give the fans a show.

Slowed by a hand injury for the second half of last season, UNM’s starting point guard intends to ramp up her production in season two as a Lobo. LaTora, who transferred along with her sister from Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has yet to experience a game with fans in the Pit stands. She feels better prepared after last season’s strange COVID-impacted journey, which included playing 18 of 20 games outside New Mexico and a Mountain West regular-season championship.

“I think the COVID year helped me,” LaTora said. “I was able to learn the program and what the coaches expect. This year, I feel like I can be more of a leader.”

LaTora gave a nod to super seniors (who accepted an extra year of NCAA-allowed eligibility) Antonia Anderson and Jaedyn De La Cerda as acknowledged team leaders and faces of the program. Still, her role as point guard requires on-court leadership, and coach Mike Bradbury said LaTora can meet the demands.

“She’ll probably have more scoring opportunities while Tay (LaTascya) is out,” Bradbury said, “and she can definitely score. Tora really improved her 3-point shot during the offseason, but the big thing is she can run the team. That’s what we need from her, whether she scores 20 points in a game or six.”

LaTora handled that role last season, starting all 20 games during UNM’s 15-5 campaign. Few onlookers were aware she was playing with a painful right hand injury during the second half of the season, one that impacted her point production.

She averaged 10.5 points over UNM’s first 10 games, but attempted fewer shots and dipped to 5.5 ppg over the last 10 contests. She finished the season averaging 8.0 points, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

“I hurt my hand going for a steal,” LaTora said, “and I couldn’t really push off on my shot. It still bugs me sometimes but nothing like last year. I’m good to go.”

Asked if she hopes to be more of a scoring threat this season, LaTora grinned.

“Oh, I will be,” she said.

If nothing else, LaTora will have an extra set of eyes breaking down her performances. She and LaTascya typically critique one another during practice and games, and that won’t entirely change. “I watch practice and I’ll tell her what she’s doing wrong,” LaTascya said.

The comment left LaTora shaking her head, but she admits starting the season without her twin sister in uniform will be different.

“She played without me in high school when I tore my ACL,” LaTora said, “but I’ve never played without her. It feels weird, but she’ll be there, watching and helping me until she’s ready to play.

“We’ll make it work.”

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