UNM women look to start climbing Mountain West ladder - Albuquerque Journal

UNM women look to start climbing Mountain West ladder

Mike Bradbury

The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team has a lot to play for in the second half of its Mountain West schedule — even with first place probably out of reach.

The Lobos (13-9, 5-4) are part of a seven-team logjam that will likely spend February battling for prime seeding spots in the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNM has a chance to help its cause considerably this week with home games against first-place UNLV (20-2, 10-0) on Thursday and second-place San Diego State (18-6, 8-3) on Saturday.

The games are a chance for New Mexico to make a statement. The Lobos lost to both teams on the road in January but they have since won three straight games and have begun to play more like the UNM team that was picked to finish second in the MWC during the preseason.

Wins against top contenders also would benefit the Lobos in a potential tiebreaker situation. Considering that they are one of seven MWC teams currently with either three, four or five league losses, odds are good that seeding tiebreakers for the conference tournament will ultimately come into play.

“Honestly, it’s hard to project how the league is going to shake out,” UNM coach Mike Bradbury said. “UNLV has kind of separated themselves and there are three teams with 1-9 (conference) records. The rest of us could all finish anywhere from second to eighth. Hopefully, we can keep improving and work our way up the ladder in the next few weeks.”

The Lobos, who have played fewer MWC games than anyone else, start their second half against red-hot UNLV, which has won 11 straight games overall and has all but locked up the conference’s regular-season title.

Running the table is far from a sure thing but the Lady Rebels already have swept contenders Colorado State and Wyoming and won at San Diego State. After Thursday’s game at the Pit, UNLV has a favorable closing schedule.

San Diego State and Wyoming, each with three league losses, face much tougher finishing stretches. The Aztecs, who lost a rescheduled game at Boise State on Monday, have road games at UNM, UNLV and host Colorado State and Wyoming over their final seven games.

The Cowgirls still must visit the Pit, SDSU and play home-and-home against rival CSU.

The Lobos, meanwhile, have arguably their three toughest remaining games at home (UNLV, SDSU and Wyoming). Road games at Boise State, Nevada and Air Force undoubtedly will be challenging, but UNM also has three games remaining against the league’s three 1-9 clubs (Utah State, San Jose State and Fresno State).

With first place effectively off the table, finishing among the Mountain West’s top five becomes a primary objective. The top five finishers earn first-round byes at the MWC tournament.

Bradbury, like many coaches, prefers not to look too far ahead. His focus remains on Thursday’s game against UNLV.

Still, Bradbury remains optimistic about UNM’s prospects in the second half of conference play.

“I like our team and I think we’ve improved quite a bit recently,” he said. “Our offense is much better than it was early in the season, and I think our defense and our focus have gotten better since conference started. We just have to keep working and trending in the right direction. I definitely don’t think this team has peaked.”

MILESTONES AHEAD: Senior guard LaTascya Duff set a career high with eight made 3-pointers in Saturday’s 98-60 win at Utah State. She also moved into striking range of UNM’s top two career 3-point snipers.

Duff has netted 215 career 3s and trails only Amy Beggin (218) and Katie Montgomery on the program’s career list. Duff has gotten to this point considerably faster than either of her predecessors, having played in just 76 games with the Lobos. Beggin played in 131 games from 2006-10, and Montgomery played in 127 games from 2004-07.

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