Nov. 12, 2009
Who: Northern Colorado at Lobos - WNIT
When/Where: 7 p.m., Friday, The Pit
Online: GameTracker, live video, game story on GoLobos.com
Radio: 610 AM - KNML - The Sports Animal
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The winning thing in the WNIT is an obvious motivation. Don Flanagan's Lobos are winners, especially in front of the love that rains down on these hoopsters in The Pit.
The Lobos typically give good payback for all that support. Usually, they win. Always, they play hard. But there also is another strong motivation to win and advance in the Preseason Women's National Invitation Tournament that opens for The Lobos in The Pit at 7 p.m. Friday.
Northern Colorado is a good opener for the University of New Mexico, but the Bears from Greeley also are a stepping stone to other good teams and probably teams that have their act together early for the 2009-10 season.
The winners advance and there usually is a reason teams win - better talent or maybe better team chemistry early. The Lobos are hungry to chew on some tough meat early in the season.
"We want to go against the best right away," said Lobo senior Amy Beggin. "It's a great opportunity for us, just to see where we're at and to play great competition right away. It's going to be a good measure for us."
One thing Flanagan will be measuring Friday in The Pit is his Lobos' defense. The Lobo coach knows that jump shots come and go, but honest effort on defense can be a constant. He wasn't all that happy with the defense he saw in UNM's 100-52 exhibition romp over the Eastern New Mexico Zias.
3 Eileen Weissmann
10 Amy Beggin
11 Lauren Taylor
12 Nikki Nelson
14 Jourdan Erskine
20 Sara Halasz
22 Georonika Jackson
23 Porche Torrance
24 Caroline Durbin
32 Amanda Best
34 Valerie Kast
42 Jordan Unverzagt
43 Emily Stark
52 Jessica Kielpinski
"I thought we did OK offensively," said Flanagan. "But defensively there were some things I thought we covered (in practice), but evidently we didn't cover them enough. There were some breakdowns on defense. We weren't very good when being screened."
No doubt, those defensive keys have now been covered. Another thing Flanagan will be looking at is which combinations work and which Lobos will form the best combinations. "I thought our combinations last game really led to a lot of our mistakes," said Flanagan.
Against Eastern, Flanagan was without two projected starters: Eileen Weissmann and Georonika Jackson, out with minor injuries. Those two will see the court vs. the Bears, but Jackson might have lost her starting role to the hot-shooting Lauren Taylor.
The sophomore gun went 7-of-7 from the field to pace UNM's scoring. Taylor wasn't simply a gunslinger against the Zias. The much-improved Lobo also had four assists and three steals. She was all-around.
"I think you shouldn't leave her alone (unguarded)," said Flanagan. "She is quicker, stronger, handles the ball better and shoots more consistently. The things that she had problems with last year, a lot of it had to do with lack of experience."
Said Taylor: "I know what's going on this year. That definitely gives you a little more confidence. I've watched the games. I've been in The Pit. I've felt 10,000 fans yelling and screaming."
The Lobos definitely will hear the WNIT screams for three games because the tourney is a three-game guarantee. UNM also will host the WNIT at 2 p.m. Sunday and at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The championship run is set for Nov. 22.
Flanagan is in his 15th season as a Lobo and UNM is 13-6 in The Pit in season openers. The Bears play out of the Big Sky Conference and return two solid starters in Whitley Cox and Courtney Stoermer. Cox averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 boards in 2008-09. Stoermer averaged 12.8 points and 4.0 boards.
The Lobos might not have the height advantage too many times this season, but they will be looking down on the Bears. Northern Colorado's starting lineup goes 5-6, 5-8, 5-10, 5-11 and 6-foot. The six-player bench has only one player taller than 6-foot.
This should eliminate one major concern Flanagan has for the 2009-10 season: using a guard to defend a post type. He'll start the season with a system that leans on four guards/wings and one post.
"Right now, we'll be more perimeter players and we're going to see if one of those guards can defend a post player," said Flanagan. It looks like the Bears will go with a similar system, but even if they go to a double post, it won't be a set of twin towers.
What Flanagan also needs to figure out is which Lobos are going to step up early. He has good experience returning in Beggin, Taylor, Nikki Nelson, Sara Halasz, Amanda Best, Weissman, Jackson, Jessica Kielpinski and Valerie Kast.
If that experience plays well, it doesn't leave too much space for Flanagan's talented crop of freshmen.
"I'd say we are pretty good, almost to ten," said Flanagan. "I want to play some players."
WNIT NOTES: There are 16 teams in the Preseason WNIT. ... UNM needs three wins to reach the finals and four wins to take the title. ... All games are hosted by participating schools. ... The Bears are coming off a 60-52 loss to Metro State in exhibition action. ... The Bears were 12-18 last season. ... The winner of the Lobos/Bears game plays the winner of UTEP-Florida Gulf Coast.