LaTora and LaTascya Duff know expectations will be high for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team this season.
They welcome the challenge.
The talented twin sisters have equally high expectations for the Lobos and for themselves heading into the 2022-23 season, and why not? With the Duffs, Shaiquel McGruder and Amaya Brown on the roster, UNM could have four all-conference-caliber super seniors starting when the regular season tips off Nov. 7 at Southern Utah.
Better still, all four are healthy as preseason practice rolls into high gear. Brown’s four-year tenure at Florida State was curtailed by knee injuries, and the Duffs battled through a variety of issues during UNM’s 26-10 campaign last year.
LaTora Duff played several games sporting a mask to protect a broken nose, while LaTascya missed the opening game after undergoing offseason jaw surgery that was expected to keep her out considerably longer.
Still, the sisters from Samson, Alabama put together an outstanding year. They averaged exactly 12 points apiece (go figure) and ranked among the Mountain West leaders in numerous statistical categories. LaTascya led the league in total 3-pointers made (92) and 3s per game (2.8), while LaTora was third in assists per game (5.3) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1). Both Duffs ranked among the top 12 in minutes played and the top 15 in scoring.
Neither was entirely satisfied, but they know reaching this season’s aspirations may require some adjustments.
“I think everyone likes to set personal goals,” LaTora said. “I do. I think I have to score more this year and, as seniors, we have to work with the freshmen – teach them what to expect and get our chemistry going.”
“We do have some seniors, but overall we’re young,” she said. “To have the season we want, we’re going to need some young players to step in. They’re learning and we have to help them out.”
UNM’s roster includes seven new faces, but they’re not all without collegiate experience. Along with four freshmen (Hannah Robbins, Brooke Berry, Jaelyn Bates and Natalia Chavez), the cast of first-year Lobos includes Brown, transfer Nia Johnson (UNLV) and junior college transfer Hulda Joaquim (Seward County CC),
Returnees include junior Kath van Bennekom and sophomores Viané Cumber, Aniyah Augmon, Mackenzie Curtis and Paula Reus, all of whom saw significant minutes at times last season.
With 15 players on his roster for the first time in several years, UNM coach Mike Bradbury also has adjustments to make. Bradbury often employed just eight players during Mountain West play last season.
“We’re hoping to play more people,” he said, “but that’s up to the players to make it happen. We have a good idea who the first six will be. Spots seven through 10 are open for competition and we’ll see how that shakes out.”
Bradbury’s first six undoubtedly will include the Duffs. Like it or not, LaTora and LaTascya inherit the title of Mountain West’s most recognizable twins, with former Fresno State poster girls Haley and Hannah Cavinder having transferred to Miami to continue their careers in basketball and swimwear sales.
LaTora rolled her eyes at that suggestion but said she and LaTascya are motivated to raise their on-court profiles in the Mountain West. Neither received first-team All-MWC honors last season. LaTora received honorable mention, while LaTascya was not recognized after being named MWC Sixth Person of the Year in 2020-21.
“Last year I don’t think I got enough respect,” LaTora said. “This year I want to go get my respect. I’m going to go earn it.”
Should they match or improve on last year’s numbers, the Duffs have a chance to post some remarkable career totals at UNM. LaTascya has 149 made 3-pointers and needs 73 more to surpass career leader Katie Montgomery (2003-07). LaTora has 270 assists and needs 154 to move into UNM’s top five.
Both sisters could also move into the program’s 1,000-point club if they match last season’s numbers – impressive considering this will be just their third season at the school and 2020-21 was trimmed to 20 games because of the pandemic.
Still, LaTora and LaTascya are more focused on a team goal – one they say motivated them to return to UNM as super seniors.
“Definitely winning a conference championship and going to the NCAAs,” LaTascya said. “It won’t be easy, but if we hold each other accountable and work hard, I think we can get there. It’s our last year, got to finish the job.”