Home has been where the victories are for the UNM women’s basketball team this Mouuntain West Conference season.
Back-to-back wins over Boise State and Colorado State in the past week got the Lobos back to .500 in league play (12-9 overall, 4-4 MWC), but the home-road splits are hard to ignore.
In MWC home games, New Mexico is 4-0, averages 74.5 points and outscores opponents by 13.8 per game.
In MWC road games, New Mexico is 0-4, averages 64.5 points and has been outscored by 10 per game.
Level of competition weighs into the numbers as the Lobos have faced four of the league’s top contenders (Wyoming, Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State) on the road. Still, UNM will need road wins if it hopes to climb the standings over its final 10 games.
Saturday presents a prime opportunity as the Lobos visit Utah State at Logan’s Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Struggling Aggies (4-16, 1-8) are just 2-8 at home this season, and their lone Mountain West win came on the road.
Oddly, Saturday’s game will be UNM’s first against a team with a losing conference record as the Lobos have not faced the three squads log-jammed at the bottom of the MWC standings: USU, San Jose State (1-8) and Fresno State (1-9).
But with consecutive home games against league-leading UNLV and second-place SDSU coming up, UNM coach Mike Bradbury does not want his team to get caught looking ahead.
“We have to be just as focused as we were for our last two home games,” Bradbury said Friday. “Utah State plays fast and they shoot a ton of 3s – almost half their shots. We can’t afford to come out passive and let them get on a roll.”
UNM has been burned by some sluggish starts this season but grabbed first-quarter leads in its wins over Boise State and CSU. And while Utah State does not hesitate to shoot from long range (135-for-436 from 3-point range, 31%), Bradbury is more concerned about keeping the Aggies away from the basket.
“They like to penetrate and kick the ball back out for 3s,” he said. “That’s when they’re dangerous. We need to keep them in front of us and keep them on the perimeter.”
UNM could be back at full strength Saturday as sophomore forward Paula Reus returned to practice Friday. The 6-foot-1 Reus missed three days of practice and Thursday’s 64-59 win over Colorado State with an ankle injury suffered against Boise State.
Reus’ absence did not hamper the Lobos against CSU thanks to a strong performance by Viané Cumber, who made her second start of the season. Cumber had 12 points and seven rebounds in a career-high 37 minutes.
“It’s cool starting,” Cumber said, “but it doesn’t really change anything for me. My preparation is the same and I just try to find ways to help the team, whether I’m starting or coming off the bench.”
Reus’ absence forced posts Shaiquel McGruder (40 minutes) and Cumber to play extended minutes, but Bradbury said he felt good about starting Cumber.
“V plays starter’s minutes anyway,” he said. “She played well (against CSU) just like we thought she would – gave us some scoring and solid defensively.”
UNM’s visit to Utah will be brief. The Lobos practiced at home Friday morning before leaving for Logan, and they’ll return to Albuquerque on Saturday night.
A win would push UNM to 5-4 at the halfway point of conference play with five home games scheduled in the second half.