March 10, 2009
What: Mountain West Conference Championships
When/Where: March 10-14, Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center
Tuesday: Lobos 84, Air Force 41
Wednesday: Lobos vs. Colorado State, 5:30 p.m. (Mt)
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- There is an old adage that refers to relationships more than to basketball games: "Start as you plan to go." If that adage can be applied to the New Mexico Lobos' start in the 2009 Mountain West Conference Championships, then the Lobos plan to go all the way.
"Our plan is to win the tournament and come back and play in NCAAs," said senior Amanda Adamson.
The Lobos definitely got off to a sweet start Tuesday in Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center with an easy 84-41 romp & roll over the Air Force Falcons. The Lobos looked like they were embracing an old friend in the way they ran the Mack's floor and abused the Mack's rims.
But if you look closely at UNM's love affair with the MWC tourney, it really is a relationship.
The Thomas & Mack Center becomes a little Pit and the Lobos embrace this automatic ticket to NCAA play with more passion than any other MWC team. The Lobos have won this tourney five out of the past six years.
If they can win it in 2009, the tourney's automatic bid will bring the Lobos to The Pit for NCAA play next week. Otherwise, UNM will have to sweat it out to see if the Lobos can grab an at-large bid.
"If you win a game, you start feeling comfortable and confident and I think feeling comfortable in a tournament is as important as any preparation you can have," said Flanagan.
"We are as comfortable as we've been and as poised as we've been all year. "There are a lot of good teams out there and I'm not just talking about the first three (Utah, SDSU, TCU). We need a lot of people playing well."
Against Air Force (4-26), the Lobos (21-9) not only got a lot of Lobos playing well in the Thomas & Mack, but Flanagan got a lot of Lobos in to play. That's important since UNM was pushed into a first-round game while Utah and San Diego State got byes to the semifinals and TCU got a pass to the quarterfinals.
The Lobos advance to play Colorado State in a quarterfinal game set for 5:30 p.m. (Mt) on Wednesday. The Rams pulled the first upset of the tourney with a 64-56 win over Wyoming Tuesday.
CSU was paced by Zoi Simmons, Bonnie Barbee and Amaka Uzomah, each with 11 points. Wyoming went 1-of-14 from 3-point range and CSU outrebounded the Cowgirls 39-29.
The Lobos will have to win four straight games in Vegas to win the tourney. Utah and SDSU have to win only two games, so if Flanagan can get his Lobos to break a sweat while keeping their legs somewhat fresh, UNM might find some advantage to early wins that get his Lobos on a roll. The Lobos barely broke a sweat against the Falcons.
"I think probably the most important thing is we got everybody a rest," said Flanagan. "I don't think anybody played more than 25 minutes."
Actually Beggin logged 26 minutes, but only six minutes in the second half. If Beggin started like she plans to go, she is looking at an MVP ride. Beggin burned the Falcons with a variety of shots in the first half and went into the locker room at the break with 18 points.
The Lobos formula for forming a 43-23 halftime lead was a good one: take 15 more shots, get 13 more rebounds and guard the ball like it was the family jewels.
UNM had only one turnover in the first half. Of course, the another key ingredient to that first-half stew was to let Beggin destroy the Falcons. The Lobo junior went 6-of-8 from the field in the first half and 4-of-6 from behind the line. UNM also had 11 offensive rebounds and 11 defensive rebounds to pound Air Force on the boards, 22-to-9.
"It seemed like every time we went to the boards, they were just there first," said Air Force's Liz Dunsworth, who scored 12 points for the Falcons. Said Kim Kreke, who led Air Force with five boards: "It's definitely tough for to get to the boards."
The Lobos did pretty much the same stuff in the second half and ended up beating Air Force on the backboard 38-25. The Lobos ended up shooting 50 percent for the game, 31-of-62. Air Force shot 31.9 percent, 23.1 percent in the second half. The Lobos had six turnovers and 10 steals.
"Amy got us off to a great start," said Flanagan. "I had the opportunity to play a lot of people which is a good thing in a tournament, especially if your goal is to play four games."
Said Beggin: "We really wanted to get out to a good start in this tournament and just kind of get our nerves a little bit in check. I thought we did a great job coming out and starting the game strong."
Beggin was joined in double figures by Jessica Kielpinski with 13 points (season high) and Angela Hartill with 11 points. Amanda Best led the Lobos on the boards with 11, followed by Kielpinski, Hartill and Sara Halasz with five apiece. Kielpinski led UNM with five assists followed by Hartill with three assists.
Seven Lobos got in 20 minutes or more followed by Lauren Taylor with 13, Georonika Jackson with 13 and Valerie Kast with seven minutes. Kielpinski had four points, three assists and three boards in just eight minutes of playing time in the first half. She finished with 25 minutes of non-pine time.
Flanagan said a key to beating Air Force was to "match their intensity." The Lobos definitely did that early, but not until Air Force ran to a 5-0 lead. UNM then went on a 13-0 run and continued to pull away from the Falcons.
"I thought a lot of our team played well," said Flanagan. "We feel good about the way we started this tournament. Several (Lobos) have been involved in winning this tournament, so I think they feel comfortable in this environment."