Lobos-'Cats is a pairing good for both programs - Albuquerque Journal

Lobos-‘Cats is a pairing good for both programs

Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes, here encouraging her players during Sunday’s game against UNM at the Pit, would like to see the Lobos-Wildcats series continue.
Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal

Sunday’s matchup in the Pit didn’t feel like just another pre-conference women’s basketball game.

There were no fourth-quarter heroics. No. 14 Arizona pulled away in the second half for a 77-60 victory over host New Mexico – a result that helped the 7-0 Wildcats move up two notches in Monday’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Still, Sunday’s contest created a buzz.

UNM’s first home game against a ranked foe in more than five years attracted 6,087 fans on an NFL Sunday afternoon (the Lobos’ largest gathering since 2019), and the matchup left players and coaches from both programs wanting more. Arizona coach Adia Barnes and UNM coach Mike Bradbury believed their teams benefitted from Sunday’s game.

“New Mexico’s a hard team to play,” Barnes said. “Coach Bradbury does a great job and the Pit is a great environment. This is a good game for us and a good win.”

Bradbury offered a similar assessment.

“Arizona’s as good a team as we’ll play,” he said. “That’s a second-weekend-in-March team that may go further than that. For us to come out and play a competitive game against them, that’s only going to help us down the road.”

Sunday’s meeting was the back end of a home-and-home series which started when UNM traveled to Tucson last season. Arizona and UNM are not currently scheduled to meet again, but that could be subject to change.

Asked if she’d be willing to return to the Pit, Barnes said, “Of course.” She said the Wildcats have trouble scheduling regional opponents, many of whom aren’t willing to risk a one-sided loss.

“I don’t understand that thinking because we’re supposed to win,” Barnes said. “All the pressure’s on us. If we don’t win, it’s a big upset on Sports Center. Why wouldn’t you want that opportunity?”

Barnes credited UNM and its fans for presenting her team with a legitimate challenge.

“New Mexico makes us deal with things that most teams don’t,” she said. “They isolate us, attack and come right at us. They don’t back down.”

Barnes said playing in the Pit also presents its own dilemma.

“Honestly, the Pac-12 only has two or three environments like this,” she said, noting the two Oregon schools and Stanford. “Games like this are good for us, they’re good for the fans and they’re good for the budget. We want more games like this.”

Bradbury agreed.

“Yes, these games are good,” he said. “Arizona’s easier to get to than a lot of places we go -even though it usually ends up taking us six hours by the time we fly into Phoenix, lay over and switch planes.

“But the bottom line is, yes,” he added. “We want to get Arizona on the schedule again in the near future. We have trouble getting regional teams to come here, too, so playing (the Wildcats) is positive for us and for our fans.”

How soon the Lobos and Wildcats may square off again remains to be seen. Both coaches acknowledged the headaches of non-conrference scheduling, and Bradbury said his team’s slate for 2023-24 is nearly complete.

Still, Bradbury said he wants games like Sunday’s – games that gear up the local fan base.

“That crowd (Sunday) was unbelievable,” he said. “Great crowd, great opponent, that’s what everybody wants. I appreciate Arizona for coming here.”


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