University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury does not buy into the national rankings regarding his team’s Sunday opponent.
Arizona comes into Albuquerque slotted at 14th in one national poll, No. 13 in the other.
No, the word “overrated” did not enter into his scouting report on the 6-0 Wildcats. Asked how this Arizona club compares to the one that was ranked No. 6 when it defeated UNM last season in Tucson, Bradbury didn’t hesitate.
“I think they’re a lot better than last year,” Bradbury said. “They score the ball better, have more players who can score, they’re talented. They probably have seven or eight future pros on the roster this year.”
Suffice it to say the Lobos (4-3) face a big challenge hosting a nationally ranked opponent in the Pit for the first time since No. 16 Marquette visited in 2017. Arizona features a daunting combination of size, quickness, experience and depth in 2022-23 and was picked to finish second to Stanford in the Pac 12 preseason media poll (third behind Oregon in the coaches poll).
Few starting lineups can boast the type of balance Arizona has available with fifth-year standouts Shaina Pellington, Cate Reese, Jade Loville and seniors Lauren Fields and Esmery Martinez. Of the five, only Pellington and Reese were in Wildcats uniforms last season. The other three came to Tucson as transfers.
Pellington and Reese are formidable enough on their own. Pellington, a 5-foot-8 point guard, played for Canada in the 2021 Olympic Games after scoring 15 points against Stanford in the 2021 National Championship game. Reese, a 6-2 forward, posted a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) in Arizona’s 77-60 win over UNM last season and went on to earn AP All-American honorable mention.
“They’re bigger than us, probably a little faster than us and they’re deep,” Bradbury said. “We’ve got our hands full against them.”
Still, the Lobos recognize that Sunday’s game is as much an opportunity as it is a tall task. UNM point guard LaTora Duff smiled when asked about taking on a nationally ranked foe in the Pit.
“I like competition,” she said. “I feel like I play better against good competition and Arizona’s really good. I look forward to playing them.”
UNM also has three starters back from last season’s loss to the Wildcats, a game which UA led by just three points at halftime before gradually pulling away in the second half.
Bradbury opted for something of an inside-out defensive strategy against Arizona last season, clogging the paint and forcing the Wildcats to shoot from the perimeter. The plan didn’t succeed because the ‘Cats hit 13 3-pointers, five of them by then-freshman Madison Conner.
This year’s strategy will be different, Bradbury said.
“We have to change things up,” he said. “It’s going to be a fast game because Arizona presses and forces you to play fast, which is what we do anyway. We have to be technically correct in what we do and we have to find a way to get some rebounds. If we get killed on the boards, we’re in trouble.”
The Lobos were upbeat during Friday’s practice, looking forward to a rare home game against a nationally ranked foe. It will be just the second such opportunity for UNM during Bradbury’s seven-season tenure, but the previous instance turned out well for the home team. New Mexico defeated Marquette 88-87 on Nov. 13, 1987 behind 39 points from Jaisa Nunn.