Jan. 5, 2010
Wednesday: San Diego State at Lobos, 7 p.m., The Pit
On The Air: KASY My50-TV (Comcast 12); 610-AM
Online: GameTracker, video streaming, stats, game story on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer / Go Lobos.com
The good news for Don Flanagan's Lobos Wednesday night is the Lobos will have The Pit rocking and rolling behind them as they open the Mountain West Conference race at home.
The bad news is that the Lobos have to open the MWC wars against maybe the best team in the league - San Diego State.
"I think they are more talented than probably anybody in the conference with the exception of TCU and that's a tossup between those two," said Flanagan.
There are a few definites about these 8-4 Aztecs.
They are loaded with talent, quickness and height.
They were the MWC preseason pick to grab the 2010 title ahead of TCU.
They swept the Lobos last season.
All that adds up to a lot of confidence for the Aztecs as they try to notch their third straight win over New Mexico after snapping a 19-game skid to the Lobos.
"A lot of people want to come and beat us in The Pit in front of 8,000, 10,000 fans," said Lobo sophomore Lauren Taylor. "It definitely creates a target."
Said senior Amy Beggin: "Last year when San Diego State beat us (here), they were celebrating pretty good. We always feel that we come in with a target on our back."
Flanagan said part of that target comes from Lobos having what so many other programs do not have - gobs of loyal fans. As much as anything, this is an element that separates New Mexico basketball from the pack of other winning programs.
"Every team in conference would love to beat us here in The Pit," said Flanagan. "They probably are all a little jealous that we get so much attention and so much fan support."
A Pit win is good for any Lobo opponent because it's so difficult to win in Albuquerque. On a more practical level, a Pit win is a great edge to have in the MWC race.
Not too many teams can - or will - win in The Pit. If SDSU can sneak one out, it gives them an early - and big - edge in trying to live up to the preseason poll that says they will win it all.
"This should be her (coach Beth Burns) premier team," said Flanagan. "They have everyone back from last year. They are a pretty solid team. I would think they are a team that's going to play well on the road."
The Aztecs definitely have the talent to win almost anywhere and you start your look at that talent by zeroing in on SDSU's terrific trio: Quenese Davis, Jene Morris and Paris Johnson.
The 5-foot-9 Morris averages 13.4 points and scored 18 in SDSU's 63-62 win over Wake Forest. The 6-4 Johnson scores at an 11.3 clip and hauls down 6.4 boards per game. She scored 18 points in SDSU's last game, a 66-55 win over Auburn. Those two games came in the Aztec's Surf `N Slam tourney.
As good as Morris and Johnson played, Davis played better. The 5-9 speedster was the tourney MVP and is the Aztecs' leading scorer with a 14.1 average.
This trio might be the heart of the SDSU attack, but Flanagan says these Aztecs are at least seven deep when it comes to flooding the floor with talent. SDSU also has 6-3 Jessika Bradley, who averages 8.8 points and 7.5 boards per game.
"They run a lot of sets and much of it is to hit the open player," said Flanagan. "You can't focus on anybody."
The Aztecs' quickness will present a problem for UNM as will the SDSU height. Flanagan, who leans to a four-guard lineup, says the Aztec twin towers of Johnson (6-4) and Bradley (6-3) probably will force him to put a guard on Johnson.
A few keys for the Lobos are to shoot well and protect the basketball and not get killed inside. The Lobos did not shoot well against A&M and got killed inside.
"We have to shoot a higher percentage," said Flanagan. "But scoring in the high 60s, the 70s, that's good for us."
A key for UNM slipping into the 70s, without allowing SDSU to slip into the high 70s, is handling the SDSU pressure. The Aztecs are quick enough, athletic enough, to pressure teams into mistake via a full-court press and into taking bad shots out of a half-court set.
The Lobos need to run with control and be quick with patience. It's not an easy thing to do with Aztecs in your face. "You had better be prepared for just about everything," said Flanagan.
A good addition for UNM vs. SDSU is the return of 6-foot Eileen Weissmann. The senior isn't at full strength, but should be able to provide Flanagan with some solid minutes of physical defense. That will come in handy against the taller Aztecs.
"She gives us a physical player, who can match up with inside players," said Flanagan.
A Pit win would be nice for the Lobos since their next two MWC games are on the road at UNLV and at Utah. TCU has the best record in the league at 10-3, including a huge win over Texas A&M. BYU and Wyoming are at 9-3 with UNM, SDSU and Utah at 8-5.
Most likely, the 2010 champion will come out of that group with TCU and SDSU as the favorites. The best path to a regular-season title is to go undefeated at home and win at least half your road games.
If there is an easy side to that formula, it's winning at home. But it probably won't be easy in The Pit Wednesday. The so-called best team in the MWC will be visiting and hungry to get a leg up on the competition.
"It's a big game to start out with," said Beggin.