STEVENS: A UNM Win at Colorado State is Close to Being a Must-Win Game
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  01/28/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Jan. 28, 2009

Lobo Basketball
Lobos vs. Colorado State
When/Where: 7 p.m., tonight; Moby Arena, Fort Collins
On The Air: 610-AM KNML
Online: GameTracker on GoLobos.com

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In some ways, the Lobos' Mountain West Conference voyage into Colorado State's Moby Arena might be looked at as a "must win" for New Mexico. It all depends on how you look at this MWC race and all the little factors that will eventually determine the 2009 Queen of The Mountain.

The traditional formula is time tested and non-negotiable: You protect the home turf and get a few major breakthroughs on the road. But usually the team that does that also takes care of business by sweeping the teams destined to finish in the bottom section of the MWC race.

There is a good chance the 2009 MWC regular-season champ will sweep at least three of the four teams likely to finish in the No. 6 thru No. 9 spots. This year the bottom feeders look to be Colorado State, Wyoming, UNLV and Air Force.

The Lobos already have wins over Air Force and UNLV. They get their chance tonight to go 1-up on Colorado State. UNM plays its first game against Wyoming on Feb. 4 in Laramie.

Of course, there are other key factors and games in chasing the 2009 title for the five MWC teams -- UNM (4-1), Utah (5-0), San Diego State (4-1), TCU (4-2) and BYU (3-2) -- which can claim to be serious contenders for the throne.

Two huge games tonight are Utah at Brigham Young and San Diego State at TCU. Probably it would be best for the Lobos if the home teams held serve. The Lobos don't want Utah running off to a 6-0 mark that includes a breakthrough at BYU. The Lobos lost in The Pit to SDSU and need the Aztecs to tumble at TCU.

The Lobos also have a huge game in The Pit on Sunday with the Utah Utes. Still, the Lobos have to take care of business in Fort Collins. The Rams are struggling to return to their glory days, but any road win in the MWC often is accompanied by a sigh of relief.

"There is not an easy win," said Lobo junior Amy Beggin. "I think when we are playing well, we can beat anyone in the conference. When we are not playing well, it's going to be tough to win."

Recent history suggest the Rams (7-12, 2-4) are not so tough when they run into a pack of Lobos. UNM has won 10 straight and 12 of the past 13 games. The Rams last win over UNM came on Feb. 5, 2004.

The Rams are attempting to rebuild under first-year head coach Kristen Holt, who inherited a program that went 0-16 in the MWC last season. CSU's 2-4 mark suggests Holt is making improvements.

The Rams obviously have to slow down Beggin, who paces UNM in scoring with 15.3 points a game. UNM Coach Don Flanagan is hoping that another Lobo or two steps up to help Beggin in the scoring column much like what Georonika Jackson did in UNM's 75-63 win over TCU. Jackson scored a career-high 23 points, knocking down six treys.

"I hope Georonika does it again, but it could be anybody," said Flanagan. "We have several players who are not playing the way they are capable of playing. I think they can pick up some of the scoring load and help Amy out.

"And they are going to have to because everybody is going to chase Amy all over the place. She's not going to get the free looks she's had in the past.

"If they (other Lobos) start scoring a little bit, that will take the defensive effort off Amy and (teams) will have to spread it out a little. That's what we're looking for is someone else to help Amy and there are more than one who are capable of doing it."

The Rams probably would be happy if opposing teams had a single Ram to worry about in the scoring column. CSU is led by Kandy Beemer, who scores 8.3 point per game. The Rams have been struggling on the offensive end. They are No. 8 in the MWC (league games) in scoring, scoring margin and field goal percentage just ahead of hapless Air Force.

Flanagan said Jackson's game against TCU didn't earn her a start, but "she's going to get in the game earlier than she ever did before. I'm not going to start her, but she'll be first off the bench for the guards." Flanagan said if Jackson continues to play at that level, she "gives us more depth, more players who I can trust and rely on."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner