April 3, 2012
New Mexico Lobo Women's Basketball - 2011-12 Season Review
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To appreciate the dramatic Mountain West tourney ending - as well as the season of lumps and bumps, surgery and concussions -- maybe you had to watch senior Nikki Nelson walk across The Pit parking lot after a game or a practice with gigantic ice packs taped to both knees.
The wraps bulged out several inches and Nelson looked more like she was trudging through heavy sand or deep snow than walking across smooth concrete.
The Lobo senior looked like she was walking uphill, which, in a way, is what the Lobos were doing all season.
The Lobos' season of 2011-12 was accented by the brilliant inside-outside touch of Caroline Durbin and Porche Torrance, but it also was a cruel season of attrition that demanded each and every Lobo raise their level of play - and their threshold for pain.
"You just have to play with what you have," senior Porche Torrance said during the season. "We are out there playing for each other and that's a lot; that's enough."
The New Mexico team bus this past season could have been an emergency vehicle. The team motto should have been, "Have wounded, Will Travel."
"When you are going through it, you don't have a choice in what's happening, so you just deal with it," said Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez. "It was more, `What's the solution? How can we fix it?'
"Sara went down. What are we going to do? Whitney is gone. Deeva is gone. How are we going to adjust? We had a lot of different situations thrown at us, but all you can do is find ways to deal with them and go out and try to win."
Nelson could have been the poster child for Sanchez's first season as head coach of the University of New Mexico women's basketball program. If not Nelson, how about another member of Sanchez's battered crew: Sara Halasz, Whitney Johnson, Deeva Vaughn, Jourdan Erskine, Chinyere Nnaji or Lauren Taylor.
Halasz, UNM's top scorer, went down to ACL surgery in the preseason. Her injury was accented by the loss of five freshmen defections from the previous season. Johnson (knee) and Vaughn (concussion) dropped out along the way. Nnaji (shoulder), Erskine (knee), Taylor (knee/neck) and Nelson (both knees) fought back the pain and limped to the dramatic conclusion.
The conclusion was a beauty and, yes, unexpected by just about everyone except the members of this gutsy team and staff. The Lobos went to the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas talking about shocking, and upsetting, their way to the league title and into the NCAA dance.
It sounded good. But was there any way this depleted team of walking wounded could walk the walk? They were coming off a painful loss at Air Force, seeded No. 7, and playing the No. 2 seed UNLV Lady Rebels on their home court in the Thomas & Mack.
On paper, it read like a "one-and-done."
"After losing at Air Force, we could have gone into the conference tournament and lost to Vegas by 30," said Sanchez. "But this wasn't the type of team that was going to let that happen."
Shocker No. 1: The Lobos made MW history in this 61-58 shocker by becoming the first No. 7 women's seed to beat a No. 2 seed. The Lobos rallied from a 54-45 deficit with 7:43 to play to stun the Lady Rebs on their home court. UNM outscored UNLV 16-4 down the stretch. "My team never gives up," said Nelson. The Lobos had four players in double figures: Porche Torrance (20), Nelson (14), Caroline Durbin (12), Taylor (12).
Shocker No. 2: Hey, making Mountain West history is kind of fun. The Lobos decided to do it again by upsetting Boise State 51-50 to become the first No. 7 seed to ever reach the title game. The Lobos rolled to a 29-17 halftime lead, fought out of a 44-41 hole, and leaned on a last-second block by Torrance, the MW Defensive Player of The Year, to preserve the win. Torrance had 15 points and 12 boards and Durbin had 15 points.
The Lobos didn't finish their Cinderella run in Vegas. UNM's glass slipper was shattered 57-43 by the San Diego State Aztecs, who were clearly the Mountain's best team. The Lobos had been worn thin by a long season and worn down by the Aztecs' pressure defense. But this was a huge plus for this team and this program. The Lobos were back in the MW title game.
"To finish out the way we finished out, that was special and it happened to a bunch of deserving kids," said Sanchez. "They never gave up. Never felt sorry for themselves. They just kept believing and went to work.
"The tournament allowed us to end the season on a higher note. The kids already are coming in every day on their own and working out, lifting weights, doing whatever they can to get better."
The Lobos ended the season with a 5-5 mark down the last ten games and finished 11-20 on the season. It was a season highlighted by a sweep of New Mexico State, wins over Colorado State and Wyoming in the regular season, and the Lobos historic run in the Mountain West Tournament.
Durbin was named to the All-Mountain First Team and Torrance was the league's Defensive Player of The Year and placed on the All-MW Third Team. Torrance made the All-MW Tournament team.
Durbin also was a First Team Capital One Academic All-American. Her 4.1 GPA and her 15.0 scoring average handed the Lobo program its first-ever academic All-American. Durbin shot 48 percent from 3-point range.
"The girls worked as hard as they could. They never gave up," said Sanchez. "As a coach, that makes it fun because of that effort. That's what you want to see from your team. They worked to get better. They got better individually and better as a team. "Their energy, their positive attitude, their enthusiasm for the game and for each other was always there when it came time to going out and playing ball. They made it easy to coach them.
"For me, this was a special season."
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2011-12 ROSTER/FINAL STATS
|THE LOBOS||HT||Position||Season Statistics|
|12 - Nikki Nelson||5-5||Guard||5.1 Pts. - 2.4 Asts.|
|35 - Chinyere Nnaji||6-0||Post||2.3 Pts. - 3.8 Rebs.|
|24 - Caroline Durbin||6-0||Guard||15.0 Pts. - 3.8 Rebs.|
|23 - Porche Torrance||6-1||Wing||11.7 Pts. - 8.9 Rebs.|
|21 - Jayme Jackson||5-7||Guard||5.6 Pts. - 2.3 Rebs.|
|11 - Lauren Taylor||6-0||Guard||7.7 Pts. - 2.6 Asts.|
|14 - Jourdan Erskine||6-2||Wing||4.8 Pts. - 6.1 Rebs.|
|43 - Emily Stark||6-5||Post||1.4 Pts. - 1.0 Rebs.|
|41 - Jaime Parker||5-9||Wing||0.7 Pts. -- 0.3 Rebs.|
|33 - Maddie Muraida||6-2||Post||0.3 Pts. - 1.0 Rebs.|
|25 - Ashley Rhoades||6-2||Post||0.8 Pts. - 1.7 Rebs.|
|44- Deeva Vaughn||6-0||Wing||6.2 Pts. - 4.3 Rebs.|
|34 - Whitney Johnson||6-2||Guard||6.0 Pts. - 3.5 Rebs.|
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is the former Associate Sports Editor and Sport Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.