Jan. 19, 2010
Wednesday: Air Force at Lobos, 7 p.m., The Pit
Radio: 610-AM The Sports Animal
Online: GameTracker, Live Video on GoLobos.com.
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The check list, the history, of New Mexico vs. Air Force does nothing to fight back a Lobos' surge of overconfidence. Check it out:
New Mexico's win streak vs. Air Force: 26
Don Flanagan's record vs. Air Force: Undefeated.
UNM's last margin of victory: 43 points.
Falcons' last win: 1992.
OK, it's probably best to stop this list now or the shapers of the new-look Pit might have to expand the ramp leading to the Bob King Floor in order to get the Lobos' confidence down the tunnel.
But there are a few ways to jolt the Lobos back into a sense of focus vs. the Falcons. Like that 11 percent the Lobo shot from the field in the second half at Utah. Like that loss in The Pit vs. San Diego State.
What the (10-6, 2-2 MWC) Lobos need to focus on Wednesday night in The Pit is that the (3-13, 0-3 MWC) Falcons represent another chance to get better and the Lobos and all Mountain West teams need to take advantage of these opportunities.
Lobo coach Don Flanagan knows this: "We are in the part of the season where we have to get better and better because the league is pretty good and there are no easy games."
The MWC race is a dogfight and made even more so with Brigham Young, TCU and San Diego State getting slapped with losses. Oh, TCU and SDSU are still considered the MWC teams to beat along with Brigham Young, which lost Tuesday night at Wyoming.
The MWC Race
BYU -- 3-1
TCU -- 3-1
SDS -- 3-1
Wyo -- 3-2
UNM -- 2-2
Utah -- 1-2
CSU -- 1-2
UNLV -- 1-3
AFA -- 0-3
A Lobo win over Air Force isn't going to give the Lobos a leg up in the MWC race, but a loss could be devastating. The Lobos simply can`t afford to lose to Air Force and the Lobos also can`t waste an opportunity to get better. UNM still has to visit SDSU and has to play TCU and BYU twice.
The Falcons might not present the Lobos with a huge challenge when it comes to height or pure talent, but the Falcons will test your heart. A team often will beat the Falcons on the scoreboard, but not beat them on the floor when it comes to grit and effort.
Flanagan would like to see his Lobos win in both areas. "I focus real hard on making sure our players don't get outworked or out hustled," he said. "You have to be very careful that you don't take them lightly. They will play hard and they can get hot."
Said Lobo senior Amy Beggin: "They are a team that tries to outwork everybody. They play with so much energy."
The Falcons' determination on the court should help the Lobos improve. Air Force probably will throw a tight matchup zone at the Lobos which demands that the Lobos execute and shoot well.
"I want to execute our offense," said Flanagan. " They run a matchup zone which nobody has run so far against us. We're going to see what works.
"The key is to be aggressive in whatever we are doing offensively and try to get into transition. We probably are in good position, if we push the ball against them".
The Lobos are tough to beat when they run and shoot well. When Lobo shots are off, the Lobos are more vulnerable.
The Lobos are coming off a solid 74-61 spanking of Wyoming. "That win against Wyoming was really big for us," said Beggin. "We had a lot of things rolling."
The Wyoming game was an opportunity for the Lobos to get better as a team and as individuals. One Lobo individual, who took advantage of that opportunity was Amanda Best.
The Lobo junior had a career-high 21 points. She used that game to work on some of her old ways. She put the ball on the floor and drove it.
""I had been passive, hadn't been aggressive, hadn't been driving," Best said. "I wasn't attacking. That's kind of my thing. I drive to the hole. I kind of got away from that a little bit.
" I'm more of a momentum player. If I get a basket or two, it gets me going. I just was going to play my game and not worry about making mistakes."
The Falcons' visit also should give Flanagan some minutes to throw to his bench and maybe build some productivity from that area prior to Saturday's visit to Colorado State and next Wednesday's (Jan. 27) visit to Brigham Young.
Flanagan's Lobos have been battling through an injury bug. Lauren Taylor is out with a knee injury and Jessica Kielpinski is playing with a hurt back. Beggin has been gutting out a sore ankle all season. That UNM bench could be critical come MWC tourney time.
Flanagan says that Air Force is in a tough situation when it comes to recruiting against the rest of the programs in the MWC. "There is only a select few who get in," said Flanagan. "Others can't get in or maybe they don't want to go to a military institution.
"But they are always hard working, competitive and fundamental. This game could be perceived as easy, but Air Force is going to play 100 percent as hard as they can."
Said Best: "You can never underplay anything. You can never overlook an opponent. They (Air Force) always play hard. Always. They'll keep playing even if they are down 40."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former columnist and Associate Sports Editor for The Albuquerque Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org