Lobo women need this to happen to defeat tall, talented Arizona State - Albuquerque Journal

Lobo women need this to happen to defeat tall, talented Arizona State

UNM coach Mike Bradbury, seen coaching last season, says his team is working through a newly installed offense. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)
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The season’s first two road games have had something of a Twilight Zone vibe: fascinating and a little bit hard to believe.

The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team hopes to return to more standard programming Sunday when it hosts Arizona State for a 2 p.m. contest at the Pit. The Lobos (1-2) will need a steadier performance if they’re planning to knock off the tall-and-talented Sun Devils (3-0).

UNM’s two road games to date, losses to Southern Utah and New Mexico State, were remarkably hard to figure. The Lobos’ offense had superb moments but not enough of them to overcome some dismally long droughts.

The number 16 featured prominently in both defeats. New Mexico was outscored 16-2 to start the third quarter at SUU, and trailed 44-16 before mounting a furious comeback to force overtime at NMSU.

Lobos coach Mike Bradbury hasn’t enjoyed his team’s up-and-down offensive play, but he does have an explanation. UNM has an installed a new offense this season, one Bradbury believes will ultimately play more to the strengths of his current roster than the dribble-drive, 3-point-happy system of recent seasons.

For now, it’s a work in progress.

“It’s a brand-new offense for everybody,” he said. “It’s taking longer than we hoped but we’re getting better with it. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it, but we’ve played three games out of 31. We just have to keep improving and getting better offensively.”

Senior Amaya Brown, who is coming off back-to-back double-digit scoring games, believes the Lobos will find a consistent rhythm.

“We’re all learning together,” she said. “It’s early in the season and it’s probably best to work through this now, have it done at the finish.”

Like Brown, senior Nia Johnson is in her first season at UNM after transferring from UNLV. She expected to learn a new system but says it’s taking time for returning players and newcomers to get things integrated.

“It’s just a matter of practicing it, getting repetitions,” Johnson said. “Athleticism is a strength for us, but we have to get everyone in the right spots to run the offense efficiently. I think that’s the key for us right now.”

Despite facing a series of difficult non-conference matchups, including Sunday’s visit from Arizona State, Bradbury remains confident. UNM has a quality home win over Houston under its belt and has shown defensive improvement over last season.

Still, the Lobos will face a stiff test against ASU, which will enjoy a significant height advantage Sunday.

“I’d say it’s a huge challenge,” Bradbury said. “(The Sun Devils) are big, skilled inside and their guard play is really good.”

Brown and Johnson hope the Lobos will be able to capitalize on quickness, but they know they’ll have to stand up to a taller, post-oriented foe.

“I played against a lot of big, strong teams at Florida State,” Brown said. “You have to be physical with them throughout the whole game. You can’t back down. That’s the challenge.”

REDSHIRT TRIO: Freshman Brooke Berry has opted to take a redshirt season, joining freshman teammates Natalia Chavez and Hannah Robbins. Berry was in uniform but did not play in UNM’s first two games. She was not in uniform Tuesday at New Mexico State.

“Brooke came in after the Houston game and asked if she could redshirt,” Bradbury said. “It’s just a matter of playing time for all three players. They’re still working hard, learning and getting better.”

UNM has 15 players on its 2022-23 roster, including five seniors.

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