March 3, 2009
What: Lobos at Utah
When/Where: 7: p.m. Wednesday, Salt Lake City
Radio: 610-AM KNML
Online: GameTracker on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The basics of Don Flanagan's formula for stopping Utah's Morgan Warburton and Kalee Whipple sounds simple enough. "It's a matter of help/recover, help/recover, block out," said the Lobos coach.
Yeah, that's kind of it. Warburton and Whipple are good enough and such a focus of the Utah offense that all Lobos have to provide help defense to stop or fluster Warburton and Whipple.
Then that "help" defender has to recover quick enough to get back to the Ute they are supposed to be guarding. Then some other Lobos has to provide the "help and recover." Then you block out, because some Ute is probably going to be open for a shot. Usually, Warburton or Whipple.
Because you really can't stop these two talented Utes. There are reasons Warburton is the No. 1 scorer (19.0) in the Mountain West Conference and Whipple is No. 2 (17.2). They get open. They hit their shots. Their teammates get them open, get them the ball.
There are at least two reasons Utah leads the MWC in shooting percentage at .457: Warburton and Whipple. "Those two are really difficult to defend," said Flanagan. "Everybody (Lobos) has to realize when those two have the ball, we'd just as soon get the ball out of their hands."
Which means the Lobos might have to take a few chances and leave some other Utes open -- momentarily. That's why it's called "help and recover" defense.
Flanagan says he likes the way his Lobos (19-8, 8-6 MWC) match up against the Utes (19-8, 12-2), but he still has to massage his defense a bit. Like put Amy Beggin, UNM's energizer bunny, on Warburton.
"We have to take Amy and put her on Warburton because nobody else can stay with Warburton off of screens," said Flanagan. "That loses some of our pressure on the point guard."
Said Beggin: "I like guarding the other team's best player and she's probably the best player in the conference. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
In a way, there isn't much pressure on the Lobos for this game because UNM has fallen out of the regular-season race. But there are important things to be grabbed in Salt Lake City.
A win would give the Lobos the No. 4 seed in the MWC Tournament to be held March 10-14 in Las Vegas, Nev. "That's important. We can't get third so we want to get the best seed we can possibly get," said Flanagan.
The Lobos also would like to take a bolt of confidence into the MWC tourney and a win over Utah would be a huge hit. "We start losing now and our season's not going to last much longer," said Beggin.
Said Flanagan: "One thing that we've done is establish that we're a late-year team. We're comfortable at the end of the year. We're comfortable at tournament time."
While a win at Utah definitely would help UNM's confidence, a loss would not be morale shattering. The Utes defend their turf well. Utah is 372-50 in the Huntsman Center and 28-2 vs. the Lobos.
"It's a tough place to play," said Lobo senior Amanda Adamson. "They are a very confident team any where and now they are on their home court. That makes it a tough challenge for us."
Said Beggin: "The main thing we want to do is play well and give ourselves a shot to win at the end."
The Lobos can lose to Utah and still beat Wyoming in The Pit on Saturday to lock up the No. 4 seed for the MWC tourney. But the Lobos also have revenge on their mind from Utah's dramatic 53-50 win in The Pit. The Lobos snatched defeat from the mouth of victory. "We kind of self-destructed," said Flanagan.
Said Adamson: "We're a little bit ticked off because we don't think we should have lost to them here. So, maybe that's a little bit extra motivation."
Beggin leads UNM in scoring with a 15.2 average followed by senior center Angela Hartill at 11.4. No other Lobos average more than 7.2 points per game and lately UNM has been hurt by not enough contribution on the scoreboard from other Lobos. Utah also has 6-1 Katie King in double figures at 11.1 and 6-1 forward Halie Sawyer averages 7.8 points.
Utah hasn't lost a MWC game at home with their two league losses coming at San Diego State and at UNLV. SDSU and TCU will be Lobo fans for this game as the Aztecs sit 11-3 in league and TCU is 11-4. Utah closes its season at TCU so a Utah loss to UNM could produce a 3-way tie for the women's title.
"We match up pretty well against them," said Flanagan. "It's a matter of we have to make shots when they make shots because they have kids who can make shots."
The game dynamics should be interesting to watch. The Lobos lean to Beggin and Hartill. The Utes lean to Warburton and Whipple. So, will the UNM Batman and Robin duo beat the Utes' fearsome twosome? Or will it be a question of which role players step up and which ones don't step up?
"It should be a great game," said Adamson.
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. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner