New Mexico women vs. WNIT foe: It's like looking into a mirror - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico women vs. WNIT foe: It’s like looking into a mirror

The similarities are striking and unavoidable.

University of New Mexico women’s basketball coach Mike Bradbury said he couldn’t miss them when scouting for his team’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament opener on Thursday night.

The Lobos (20-12) face Northern Arizona (21-13) at the Pit and similar records are not the only things the teams have in common.

“They play pretty much the way we do,” Bradbury said of the Lumberjacks. “They’re good in transition, they shoot the 3 well, they’ve got an athletic (post) who’s similar to (Shaiquel McGruder). It’ll probably just come down to who executes better. These teams are that close.”

Statistics bear out Bradbury. NAU averages 75.0 points per game, while UNM scores 74.6. The Lobos make 8.6 3-pointers per game, and the Lumberjacks hit 8.1.

But the teams’ similarities are not limited to stats.

NAU and UNM both have twin sisters in their starting lineups. The Lumberjacks feature sophomores Nyah and Olivia Moran, while the Lobos have seniors LaTascya and LaTora Duff.

Both teams had six-game winning streaks snapped in their respective conference tournaments. UNM dropped a 69-68 heartbreaker to San Diego State, while NAU fell to a Sacramento State squad it had beaten twice in the regular season.

Both teams are led by multi-talented super seniors: UNM’s McGruder and NAU’s Regan Schenk, both of whom were sophomores the last time the teams faced each other in the 2019-20 season opener.

“I honestly don’t remember that game,” McGruder said with a laugh. “But I do think (the Lumberjacks) play a lot like us. They play really hard and don’t let you get comfortable. We have to be ready for that intensity.”

Bradbury and his players were upbeat this week, returning to practice after taking several days to rest and put their MWC tournament loss in the rearview mirror. Sophomore Aniyah Augmon said the Lobos are excited to have another opportunity in the 64-team WNIT.

“I think we realized right away we couldn’t take too long to bounce back,” she said. “We have more games to play, we get to start in the Pit and we’re ready to get after it.”

The Lobos hope playing at home will help build momentum for an extended run. UNM is 13-3 at home this season and 14-6 all time in WNIT home games. The Lobos defeated Grand Canyon and San Diego in the Pit last postseason before falling at Oregon State.

“It’s huge that we get to play these games at home,” Bradbury said, “and we realize it’s because of our fans. We’re very appreciative. Hopefully we can give them a good show Thursday.”

Bradbury said he considers the WNIT a reward for a successful season and he plans to treat it as such.

“We’ll play more people than normal,” he said, “and we want our players to have fun. We’re trying to win, don’t get me wrong, but we told them, ‘Have fun and don’t be scared to try to make a play.'”

McGruder, who has already been part of two Senior Day celebrations, smiled when asked about getting another chance to play at the Pit.

“I’m excited to play here and see everyone,” she said. “I think our team came back with the right attitude and we’re ready to start again. Hopefully we can keep this season going a while longer.”

Thursday’s winner will face the winner between Washington and San Francisco (also Thursday) in round two. The site and time will be announced at the conclusion of round one.

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