LUBBOCK – Neither Ebony Walker nor Antiesha Brown could completely sell the “just another game” description.
When the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team visits Texas Tech tonight, it will be the first time Walker or Brown has played at United Spirit Arena since they played for the Lady Raiders.
Both ultimately transferred to UNM, but neither was eligible to play when the Lobos topped Texas Tech last season at the Pit. That makes tonight’s game the first opportunity for Walker and Brown to line up against their former school.
Revenge factor? It once seemed a sure thing.
Brown left Lubbock in 2011 after learning her playing time would likely decrease after her freshman season.
Walker parted ways with Texas Tech’s program in 2012, saying she was effectively forced out by then-coach Kristy Curry.
But Curry is no longer coaching the Lady Raiders. She accepted the head coaching job at Alabama and bolted from West Texas last summer.
As a result, Walker and Brown have to be content with the pleasure they took in watching their new teammates defeat Tech last season. Neither was allowed on the Lobo bench for that game, but they did sneak down to enjoy some of the action from the Pit ramp.
“For me revenge was settled last year,” Brown said.
“If the same coaching staff was still there, this game would be different,” Walker said. “I’d definitely want to show them they made a mistake.”
Instead, the two Lobo juniors insist the emotion they expected to have for the UNM-Texas Tech showdown has ebbed. Only a handful of their former teammates remain on Tech’s roster and there’s no ill will to be found.
Excitement is another matter.
“The girls I played with there are still family to me,” Walker said. “(Senior post) Shauntal Nobles is one of my best friends. I definitely look forward to playing against her.”
Curry’s departure may have soothed any lingering hard feelings, but intriguing subplots to tonight’s matchup remain.
• Brown, who is coming off a career-best 28-point, 11-rebound game, is from nearby Clovis and could have friends and family members in the stands.
• Texas Tech junior Amber Battle is a Cibola High graduate and also is coming off a career-best (21 points, 11 rebounds vs. UT Pan American) outing. Battle played against Walker (Sandia) and Brown (Clovis) in high school.
“Amber’s really quick and jumps really high,” Walker said. “We’ve definitely got to contain her.”
Nobles and Battle are among the few familiar faces the Lobos will see in Tech uniforms tonight. Senior guard Kelsi Baker is out with an injury, and five of the remaining eight players on the team’s roster are freshmen.
Still, Lobo coach Yvonne Sanchez was impressed by what she saw of the Lady Raiders on video.
“They’re a big-time transition team,” Sanchez said, “get it and go. They use four guards and they’re playing a lot of freshmen, but they go hard. I’m sure they’re going to put a lot of pressure on us.”
Freshman Minta Spears is Tech’s primary 3-point threat, but Sanchez is more concerned about keeping Battle and the other Lady Raider guards from slashing to the basket.
UNM also hopes to take advantage of Tech’s four-guard lineup by working the ball inside to Walker, Khadijah Shumpert, Deeva Vaughn and Kianna Keller.
Strategic concerns aside, the Lobos’ primary hope is to make this visit to Lubbock different from previous trips. UNM is 0-7 at Texas Tech and has lost by an average of 30 points.
From that perspective at least, tonight’s is not just another game.
“Getting a win in Lubbock would feel good,” Walker said. “In fact, good is an understatement.”