The road and the schedule have not been kind to the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team this month.
The Lobos drew a decidedly short straw to open Mountain West Conference competition, playing four of their first six conference games away from home against the top four teams in the current standings (Wyoming, Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State). The Lobos dropped all four.
Worse still, UNM’s two off dates in the MWC schedule are already in the rearview mirror. The Lobos did not play on opening night (Dec. 29) and were the only team without a game on Monday’s MLK Day schedule.
The only good news in that scenario is that UNM (10-9, 2-4) will spend a fair amount of time at the Pit over the next six weeks. The Lobos host Boise State (8-11, 3-3) on Saturday, starting a stretch of four home games in UNM’s next five.
Lobos coach Mike Bradbury knew the MWC’s early schedule was not stacked in his team’s favor, and he’s looking forward to some home cooking.
“It’s been a tough stretch but I do think we’ve gotten better,” Bradbury said after Friday’s practice. “I thought we played pretty well (in Thursday’s 65-61 loss at San Diego State) for most of the game. But I told the players afterward, we can’t count on winning these upcoming games just because we’re at home. We have to be better than our opponent – for the whole game.”
Step one comes against a Boise State team that includes four freshmen in prominent roles and no seniors. The Broncos have upgraded a perimeter attack that struggled the last two seasons, meaning they are no longer forced to play deliberately and pound the ball inside.
“They actually play extremely fast this year,” Bradbury said. “They can all shoot it now, and they still rebound the heck out of the ball. They’re really big inside, one of the biggest teams in our league.”
The Broncos have thus far beaten the bottom three teams (San Jose State, Utah State and Fresno State) in the standings, and losing to contenders CSU, UNLV and San Diego State. Despite its improved perimeter shooting, Boise State’s point production has been up and down. In three wins the Broncos have averaged 69 points per game. In three losses they’ve been limited to 51 points per game.
Keeping the Broncos off the offensive boards will be a key for New Mexico, Bradbury said. Boise State leads the Mountain West in offensive rebounds (13.2 per game) and posts Abby Muse, Elodie Lalotte and guard Mary Kay Naro are particularly adept at giving their team second-chance opportunities.
UNM is not a tall team but has largely held its own on the boards in Mountain West play – with two major exceptions. The Lobos got worked over on the glass in losses to Wyoming (41-21 rebound disparity) and at UNLV (40-25).
“We can’t afford to have a game like that (against Boise State),” Bradbury said.
The Lobos also need improved ball security after coughing up 32 turnovers in their last two games, leading directly to 38 points for their opponents.
Bradbury remains convinced that his team is improving and can put together a run over the final 12 games of conference play, but even with seven home games left it won’t be easy. After Saturday, UNM’s next three home contests are against Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State.
The Lobos face struggling San Jose State and Fresno State just once this season.