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Lobo women thriving with more speed

Looking for a fast start? Try a faster starting lineup.

UNM women’s basketball coach Yvonne Sanchez took the notion to heart Saturday, starting two point guards in her team’s 63-58 road win over SMU. It’s fair to say the unusual strategy paid off.

Senior Bryce Owens and sophomore Laneah Bryan started together for the first time and provided two quick starts – one in each half. The Lobos outscored the Mustangs 15-8 in the first quarter and 19-8 in the third.

It was a drastic improvement for UNM, which found itself in 10-1 and 14-2 holes in its first two road games, losses at New Mexico State and UTEP, respectively. The latter loss convinced Sanchez to try something different.

“Bryce and Laneah give us quickness,” she said, “but they also give us so much experience and poise. I really liked the way we played on the defensive end with those two out there. We only gave up eight points in the first and third quarters. I’ll take that every time.”

Fans will likely get a look at the two-point-guard lineup Saturday when the Lobos (5-3) host Pepperdine (4-6). Owens, who has been UNM’s starting point guard since her freshman season, said she’s enjoying the new twist.

“I played some 2-guard in high school, so I’m comfortable with it,” Owens said. “It’s actually fun because Laneah can bring a lot more speed to the court.”

The speed aspect allows the Lobos to ratchet up their defensive pressure, something they focused on during Wednesday’s practice at the Davalos Center. Having two point guards in the lineup can also benefit UNM’s half-court offense.

“I like that part of it,” Sanchez said, “because Bryce and Laneah really know our offenses. Even when we’re just running motion, they do a great job reading and reacting to what the defense gives us.”

Of course, there are also liabilities to having two height-challenged point guards in the lineup. Either the 5-foot-4 Owens or the 5-6 Bryan will likely be matched against a taller opponent.

“Yeah, and it kills you on rebounding a little bit,” Sanchez conceded.

SMU finished with a 48-33 advantage on the boards.

But the Lobos made up for their rebounding disadvantage with defensive energy and ball-handling. UNM forced 26 turnovers and committed just 13. Owens and Bryan combined for nine assists, five steals and three turnovers.

“I think Bryce and Laneah kind of fed off each other,” Sanchez said, “especially on defense, and that got everyone else energized.”

Playing Owens and Bryan together forces other changes in the player rotation. Freshman guard Jannon Otto came off the bench for the first time Saturday, and sophomore guard Kenya Pye has picked up more ball-handling duties when she’s on the floor.

Nor is Sanchez certain that employing two starting point guards is a long-term solution. Owens and Bryan are the only true point guards on this season’s roster.

“I really just like the way we start with this lineup,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got options and I don’t know if this is something we’ll stay with all year, but as long as it’s working I’m not going to fix it.”

Owens grinned when asked if she was surprised by the lineup change.

“(Sanchez) always likes to switch things up,” she said, “so it wasn’t a big surprise. I guess this was more of a fun surprise for me. We’re ready to run with it.”

SOUNDS FAMILIAR: Pepperdine will bring two players of a familiar name to the Pit on Saturday. Sisters Olivia and Erica Ogwumike will suit up for the Waves. They are younger sisters of former Stanford All-Americans and current WNBA players Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. The latter scored 32 points in a Stanford win over UNM in 2013.