Thanksgiving leftovers will just have to wait.
The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team will lace up its running shoes Friday for the start of a post-holiday hoops marathon. The Lobos face Stephen F. Austin to open the three-day Van Chancellor Classic in Katy, Texas. UNM will take on Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, then face Texas Tech on Sunday before coming home. After a one-day break, the Lobos host Grambling State on Tuesday.
It’s a full plate of basketball, but the Lobos say they’re looking forward to it.
“It’s exciting,” senior Jaedyn De La Cerda said. “Sometimes you can get tired playing three games in three days, but we have enough depth to handle it. We’ll come into every game with a plan and just play our butts off.”
Arguably the most difficult assignment will come Friday against Stephen F. Austin (4-1), which has become a consistent women’s basketball power under seventh-year coach Mark Kellogg. The Ladyjacks have averaged 24 wins over the last five seasons and figure to contend for a Western Athletic Conference title in its first year in the league. SFA was picked to finish second behind Cal Baptist.
“They’ll be a Top 25 team by the end of the year,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said of the Ladyjacks. “They play fast, they can shoot it and they’ll press us every chance they get. It should be a fun game.”
Both teams are coming off convincing home victories, though SFA’s result was a bit more eye-grabbing. The Lobos raced to a 23-2 lead and coasted to a 76-58 win over Houston Baptist on Tuesday. The Ladyjacks scored 102 points in the first three quarters and steamrolled Arlington Baptist, 137-46, on Saturday.
Those outcomes seem less relevant than previous games this season. UNM’s lone loss came 89-60 at Houston, where it was overwhelmed by pressing defense in the second half. SFA defeated Houston 73-52 on its home court and suffered its lone defeat at Texas A&M.
While the Ladyjacks typically press opponents anyway, Bradbury fully expects them to come after the Lobos after watching video of the UNM-Houston game.
“I would think so,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for pressure and have changed a few things in how we’ll attack it.”
UNM also was plagued by foul trouble in its loss to Houston, something it must avoid against top-flight opponents. The Lobos’ bench is talented but inexperienced, with two sophomores and six freshmen backing up a senior starting group.
That’s not news to Shaiquel McGruder, who is UNM’s leading scorer through five games and coming off a double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) against HBU. McGruder played just 12 minutes at Houston because of foul trouble and failed to score.
She knows what type of performance UNM will need against Stephen F. Austin.
“We understand it’s going to be a tough game,” McGruder said. “We need the kind of energy we had to start the game (against Houston Baptist), and we need it for four quarters.”
The Van Chancellor Classic includes eight teams and will be played at the Merrell Center in Katy, a suburb of Houston. Four games apiece will be played Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
UNM will play the final game (5:30 p.m. MST) of the day against SFA and Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe (2-3). The Lobos and Texas Tech (3-0) will tip off Sunday at 3 p.m.