UNM hoops women's fifth starter still unknown heading into Sunday exhibition - Albuquerque Journal

UNM hoops women’s fifth starter still unknown heading into Sunday exhibition

There won’t be too many surprises when the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team’s starters are introduced prior to Sunday’s season-opening exhibition game.

One name has yet to be revealed.

Asked if he’d picked starters for the Lobos’ 2 p.m. contest against Western Colorado, coach Mike Bradbury said, “I’ve decided on four.”

The response was hardly unexpected. It would have been surprising if seniors and returning starters Jaedyn De La Cerda, Antonia Anderson, Shaiquel McGruder and LaTora Duff are not penciled into Sunday’s starting lineup.

UNM’s fifth spot is a different story. With senior LaTascya Duff recovering from offseason surgery and out for the foreseeable future, someone new will have to join the starting lineup.

That someone is likely to be a freshman. Bradbury listed three – Viané Cumber, Paula Reus and Zeyno Seren – as the top contenders to start as of Wednesday. All three have worked with the Lobos’ first unit during recent practices, and each brings something a little different to the table.

The 5-foot-10 Cumber is the most physical and has been lighting it up from 3-point range during the preseason. At 6-1, Reus brings length, a smooth shooting stroke and an ability to attack the basket. The 5-10 Seren offers quickness, ball-handling and good perimeter defense.

Regardless of who earns the start, all three will play significant minutes. Fellow freshmen Aniyah Augmon, Mackenzie Curtis and Rebeka Renczes all figure to make their debuts Sunday as well.

UNM’s seniors are eager to see how their young teammates respond to game action.

“That’s what we need now,” Anderson said, “game experience. We have a lot of talent but we’re a young team. It’s hard to judge how good we can be from playing against each other every day. We need to play some games and just see how everyone reacts.”

McGruder agreed.

“Talent is not in question at all,” she said, “but we’ve still got to get our new players acclimated. It’s just going to be a matter of putting everything together.”

Sunday’s opener will offer some new experiences, even for UNM’s returning players. It will be the first home game with fans in attendance since Feb. 24, 2020, and it will include a ring ceremony celebrating last season’s Mountain West regular-season championship.

Because of last season’s COVID-19 restrictions, several returning members of last season’s squad have not played a home game with fans in the Pit stands.

Nor does the game figure to be any sort of exhibition cakewalk. Western Colorado finished 14-6 last season and advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Mountaineers, who defeated Mountain West member Air Force in an exhibition game last season, have a strong lineup returning and are picked to finish fourth in the 15-team Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 2021-22.

The Lobos, meanwhile, are picked to finish second in the Mountain West. For as long as LaTascya Duff remains out, UNM’s 12-player active roster will be comprised of four seniors, two sophomores and six freshmen.

“This may be the new normal with all the player movement that’s going on now,” Bradbury said, “but it’s the youngest group I’ve had. I hope some of the young ones can grow up fast.”


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