Saturday’s practice was a bit odd for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team.
At the time, the Lobos didn’t know exactly what they were working toward.
Things got a bit more back to normal by the time UNM hit the practice floor Monday. Coach Mike Bradbury and his team learned for certain Sunday night that they are in the 64-team WNIT field. Monday they got the specifics.
UNM will host Northern Arizona for a first-round game Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Pit. That news arrived while the Lobos were midway through Monday’s practice.
“We didn’t even start preparing for NAU,” Bradbury said. “We didn’t know who we were playing when practice started so we just basically worked on us. Now we’ll spend (Monday night) watching video and a couple days trying to get ready.”
The Lobos (20-12) and Lumberjacks (21-13) haven’t met since the 2019-20 season but they are not unfamiliar foes. UNM played a home-and-home series with NAU starting in 2018-19, winning game one 84-55 in Flagstaff and taking an 83-76 victory in the 2019-20 season-opening rematch at the Pit.
Each team has one player remaining from the last encounter: Shaiquel McGruder for the Lobos and Regan Schenk for the Lumberjacks. Both are fifth-year standouts with more than 1,300 career points scored who led their teams in scoring this season..
Perhaps more significant, neither program has changed coaches since their last encounter. Bradbury did not expect too many scouting surprises.
“We don’t know their personnel but we know how they like to play,” he said of the Lumberjacks. “They know what we like to do, too. It’s typically been a fast, high-scoring kind of game when we play each other.”
Northern Arizona has been effective on the offensive end this season, averaging 75 points per game and relying heavily on the 3-point shot. NAU averages 8.1 made 3-pointers per game (UNM averages 8.6) and hits 32.3% from behind the arc.
Scoring prowess helped lead NAU to a successful season.
It shared the Big Sky’s regular-season title and was postseason tournament’s top seed, but the Lumberjacks missed out on an NCAA berth when they lost to Sacramento State in the championship game.
UNM is competing in the WNIT for a third straight year and hopes to improve on last season, when it fell at Oregon State in round three. Bradbury said his players were “fired-up and ready to go” after learning of their opponent on Monday.
The UNM/NAU winner will face the winner of a first-round matchup between Washington and San Francisco. The Lobos could host a second-round game Sunday at the Pit before the annual Professional Bull Riders competition takes over the facility.
UNM’s Mountain West rivals Colorado State, Wyoming and San Diego State also are in the WNIT field. Wyoming and SDSU are in the same 16-team region as the Lobos and both open at home. CSU is playing in a central region and opens on the road at Northern Iowa.
Tickets for Thursday’s game will go on sale to non-season ticket holders Wednesday at 9 a.m. on golobos.com. Bench seats are $9 and chairback seats are $15.