April 29, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was a season that marked one of the New Mexico Lobos greatest, and maybe most surprising, three-win runs in the Mountain West conference race. It was a hot-cold campaign that included big-time sweeps of rivals Brigham Young and New Mexico State.
It was a season in which Don Flanagan's program pushed into postseason play for the 13th consecutive time, again marking the stability and excellence of Lobo women's basketball.
It was a season in which the Lobos said goodbye to one of their best-ever four-year players, Amy Beggin. The 5-foot-6 point guard was named First Team All-Mountain West Conference despite playing the entire season with a nagging ankle injury, and despite losing part of her senior season to a concussion.
"I think Amy lost a step this season," said Flanagan. "And one of her strengths is that she was able to play relentless the entire game. I think her injury tired her somewhat and took that quality away from her, at least her ability to be relentless for the entire game."
The 2009-10 season also was a year of frustration for coach Flanagan, who at times saw a 19-13 Lobo team as good as any team in the conference and at other times saw an injury-riddled team struggle to get shots to drop.
"That series of winning at BYU, beating TCU, winning at San Diego State, those were games in which we played very, very well," said Flanagan. "But we were inconsistent.
"When we played well, we were good enough to beat everybody. When we didn't play well, we lost to teams we shouldn't have lost to. Usually it was because we had trouble shooting.
"Usually, we hold teams in the 50s and we win. That`s been a key for us. This year it was whether or not we shot 40 percent. If we shoot 40 percent, we beat almost everyone."
Actually, the Lobos did beat everyone in 2009-10 when they shot 40 percent or better. UNM was 15-0, notching that 15th win in the Women's National Invitation Tournament when the Lobos shot 44.8 percent against a good Southern Methodist team. The Lobos lost their bid for a tenth consecutive 20-win season when they closed at 19-13 with a second-round WNIT loss at Oregon.
"You always want to go into postseason," said Flanagan. "It's something that's a goal of ours. You want the NCAA first, but anytime you can play extra games it helps the younger players and it helps the program."
Flanagan targeted shooting as the No. 1 key to the season. It wasn't really such an amazing thing to watch the Lobos win when they shot well. Flanagan's teams are well balanced and rely on so many of the basic fundamentals of this game to outperform opponents. When Lobos shoot well, the enemy usually is in deep trouble.
However, it was sometimes shocking to look at the UNM shooting charts and see wins -- or almost wins -- when the Lobo shots were off the mark.
The Lobos were struggling from the field and had lost in The Pit to San Diego State and at Colorado State, when UNM visited league-leading Brigham Young. It was a testament to UNM's overall game that the Lobos shot only 33 percent to 43 percent to BYU, yet left Provo with a 60-57 win.
The Lobos backed that upset with a Pit win over TCU, which had replaced BYU in the MWC top spot. Again, the balanced game of the Lobos was apparent in the first half when UNM shot 20.7 percent and led TCU 21-19 at the half. UNM ended the game shooting 33.9 percent in the 60-53 win over the Horned Frogs.
It appeared that UNM's two-game run in the MWC would end on the road at San Diego State. The Aztecs had rolled and humbled UNM in The Pit 61-39 thanks to the Lobos' 26.8 percent shooting. UNM was red hot in that contest, shooting 46.8 percent in a 65-58 MWC shocker. It was UNM's third consecutive win over the team leading the MWC standings.
The Lobos were very good when they shot well. UNM beat a good NMSU team 92-85 in Las Cruces when the Lobo guns hit at a 52.5 percent clip. They completed the sweep of Aggies by shooting 42.9 percent in a 81-64 Pit win. UNM shot 66.7 percent in the first half to race to a 47-26 halftime lead over NMSU.
The Lobos won 15 games by shooting 40 percent or better, won another four when they shot under 40 percent and hung in a lot of games despite poor shooting. UNM was a possession away from a win at Utah despite shooting 23.7 percent for the game and 10.7 percent in the second half.
"We had trouble finishing shots and even finishing games," said Flanagan. "We didn't have enough high-percentage scoring from our interior players. We had to go with guards attacking the basket and we didn't get the percentage we wanted."
No Lobo who started more than 10 games shot over 41 percent from the floor. UNM shot .386 percent as a team. The Lobos' season also was influenced by injured Lobos. Sometimes the Lobos played hurt. Sometimes they never left the bench.
"Injuries are always part of the season, but we probably had more than normal and we had more starters hurt than normal," said Flanagan. "Sometimes it's not your first string that is hurt or maybe the injuries still allow players to play at an acceptable level."
Beggin was hobbled by off-season surgery that plagued her throughout the season. Often the senior leader would not practice following a game, allowing pain and swelling to subside prior to again taking the court. She missed only three of UNM's 32 games, but often was not playing at 100 percent.
Still, anytime you can get Beggin on the court, it's acceptable.
"Amy's effort and attitude was always at such a high level and that was over her entire career," said Flanagan. "She wasn't the fastest point guard we've ever had, but she is up there in toughness, desire, determination.
"She improved her game and her statistics through effort. She is a student-athlete of the highest caliber. There is something to be said about blue-collar effort and understanding the game."
Beggin finished her Lobo career as a three-time All-MWC selection and as a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. She is ranked in the top 10 on several UNM career lists, including points (6th; 1,423), assists (3rd, 435), three-point field goals (2nd, 217) and steals (4th, 190).
Another key injury was losing senior Eileen Weissmann for nine games due to a high ankle sprain. Weissmann, the warrior-type, was a key for UNM's season because the biggest question mark for UNM in 2009-10 was the Lobos' inside game.
"Eileen was playing her best ball about when the season ended," said Flanagan. "It hurt not having her in games, but it also hurt because it took time for her to get up to her normal level of play."
The Lobos also lost Lauren Taylor for five games due to a knee injury. When Taylor returned to the court, she obviously had slowed down, especially on her quick-step drives to the basket.
Flanagan said one thing that impressed him about his Lobos this past season was their attitude in good times and bad times. He credited his four seniors -- Beggin, Weissmann, Georonika Jackson and Valerie Kast -- for helping keep the team focused and motivated.
"This team never quit working, never gave up," he said. "Even when we weren't playing as well as we liked, we played hard and we worked hard."
Of course, just like reaching postseason play, that's a trademark of a Don Flanagan-coached team.
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.