There’s more than one way to win a conference title.
A case in point was last season’s Mountain West women’s basketball chase, during which the University of New Mexico rode high-octane offense to a regular-season title.
Grinding, efficient Wyoming then captured the league’s postseason tournament crown and its automatic NCAA berth.
The Lobos and Cowgirls never squared off during the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season, but they’re scheduled to meet Thursday in Laramie. The teams have little in common stylistically, but both are perennial conference contenders and have a history of playing close, hard-fought games.
“We haven’t seen them in a couple of years but they haven’t changed much,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said of the Cowgirls. “They’re very disciplined and they’ll keep working until they get a good shot. That’s the big thing playing Wyoming; you have to be ready to work on defense.”
First-place UNM (13-4, 4-0) is better known for its offense. The Lobos lead the Mountain West in scoring (75.8 ppg) and rank among the national leaders in numerous offensive categories including 3-point shooting, where they are second in makes (165) and fifth in attempts (434).
New Mexico would certainly prefer to speed things up against Wyoming (5-6, 1-1), which ranks 10th in MWC scoring (61.7 ppg) but limits foes to 56.9 points per contest, second best in the conference.
Bradbury is not counting on it.
“We’ve never been able to speed Wyoming up,” he said. “We’ll play fast when we have the ball. We won’t change what we do, but neither will they. They’ll push the ball every once in a while if they get an opportunity, but they’re going to run their offense and see if you can stop it.”
UNM departed early Wednesday for stop one of this week’s challenging two-game road trip. They’ll bus to Fort Collins after Thursday night’s game and face Colorado State on Saturday afternoon.
The Lobos come in riding a five-game winning streak during which they’ve averaged 79.8 points per contest. Even so, three of those victories have come by margins of four points or fewer, which senior Antonia Anderson sees as a positive sign.
“I feel like we’re gelling at the right time,” she said prior to Sunday’s 75-72 win over San Diego State. “Winning close games against teams like Boise State and UNLV shows we’re coming together and playing for each other. That’s what it takes to compete for a championship.”
NATIONAL NOTICE: Two UNM players received national recognition Wednesday for recent accomplishments. Jaedyn De La Cerda was named to ncaa.com’s national March Madness Women’s Basketball Starting Five after averaging 19.7 points and hitting 14 3-pointers during the Lobos’ 3-0 week.
LaTora Duff’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left in UNM’s 71-68 win over UNLV also earned mention at No. 10 among the site’s March Madness Top 10 Plays of the Week.
EIGHT TO GO: Anderson needs eight points to become UNM’s 24th 1,000-point career scorer. Anderson has 608 career rebounds and would be the 14th Lobo to surpass 1,000 points and 600 rebounds. She ranks third in career blocks with 150 and needs eight more to catch Porche Torrance (2007-12) for second place.
PACKING THE SCHEDULE: UNM’s rescheduled game against San Jose State on Jan. 24 is not what Bradbury had in mind. The contest, postponed Dec. 28 because of COVID issues within SJSU’s program, will require the Lobos and Spartans to play three games apiece over a six-day span.
Bradbury said he and Spartans coach Jamie Craighead wanted to reschedule the game for March 2, when both teams otherwise would be on an eight-day break between their regular-season finale and the MWC tournament (March 6-9), but the conference has final say in scheduling.