Jan. 9, 2009
What: Lobos at Air Force
When/Where: 2 p.m. today -- Clune Arena
On The Air: 610-AM KNML
Online: GameTracker on GoLobos.com
Up Next: Lobos at BYU, Jan. 17
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Is it difficult to get emotionally ready to visit an opponent that just lost by 51 points, has a tiny fan base, and you have beaten 23 straight times?
Well, maybe a little bit, but for the University of New Mexico Lobos there is still the "Flanagan Factor" to consider when eyeing a game with the Air Force Falcons.
Oh, it's not that Lobos coach Don Flanagan will turn into a Simon Legree (old-time bad guy) and bring out the whip for the next UNM practice. But Flanagan does confess that if his Lobos don't match Air Force's intensity today, they will not enjoy their next Don Flanagan practice session.
"One thing I tell them, is that they must match Air Force's intensity," said Flanagan. "That's what Air Force has in their favor: discipline, energy and intensity. They are providing that every single time. You have to not play them soft.
"If they don't play Air Force intense, our next practice will be pretty intense."
The difficult thing about playing Air Force is that players know, on some level, that you don't have to be that intense or that good to beat the Falcons. Flanagan is 22-0 vs. Air Force and UNM has won 23 straight. The Falcons are coming off a 51-point loss at San Diego State. There is a good chance there will be more Lobo fans in Clune Arena than Falcon fans.
Air Force is 2-14 and UNM is 12-2. On paper, this game appears to be a royal mismatch, but Flanagan does not want his girls to fall into the trap of taking any team lightly.
"I never take Air Force lightly," said Flanagan, who said at San Diego the Falcons were "out-quicked at every position and they (SDSU) shut down every option. We can't do that. I don't see us shutting down all options. What we have to do is know what they are running and defend what they are running."
One difference between SDSU and UNM is the overall team quickness. The Aztecs and TCU are the quickest and most athletic teams in the league. The Lobos aren't slow, but they are more about fundamentals, positioning, execution and defense. There is a good chance UNM will pound Air Force, but the pounding will not simply be because of a talent edge.
"The thing about Air Force that is different is that they always run their stuff," said Flanagan. "If they don't run their stuff, their coach is all over them. So, you know they are going to run their stuff and you better adjust to their stuff."
That's kind of what UNM does, too. The Lobos usually are patient and structured on offense. They execute. They work hard to get good looks at the basket. If UNM is shooting well, the Lobos can be a lot of trouble.
UNM's defense matches up well with the Air Force offense. The Lobos will not be out-quicked vs. the Falcons and it's very difficult for a team's offense to out-execute the Lobos, if that offense doesn't have an advantage in size or quickness. The Falcons are not tall or quick.
"We try to take all teams seriously," said UNM's Eileen Weissmann. "Look what happened to some of the teams in the Mountain West Conference last year.
"It's not a tough environment at Air Force, but it's different. It seems they always play us well when they are home. This is a good game for us to learn how to be our own support without our fans. This game can help us to learn how to win on the road."
Said Lobo Nikki Nelson: "They present a different style and that's a challenge. Air Force is a team that works hard. They are more fundamental, more traditional." Nelson said the Lobos are aware of Air Force's 51-point loss (79-28) to SDSU, but "every team matches up differently, so we aren't going up there expecting to blow them out like that."
The Lobos are 1-0 in MWC play after their 75-49 spanking of UNLV in The Pit on Wednesday. UNM is 23-1 vs. Air Force and riding a 23-game win streak. The Lobos only loss to the Falcons came on Jan. 2, 1992, in the first game between the two teams. UNM's 12-2 start is the team's best start since going 14-2 during the 2004-05 season. UNM finished 26-5 that year.
The Lobos are led in scoring by Amy Beggin with a 15.9 average. Air Force is paced by Raimee Beck at 13.8 and Brooke Cultra at 13.4. Kim Kreke averages 10.4 rebounds per game. "They have two guards, who can really shoot it," said Flanagan
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner