Dec. 8, 2009
Wednesday: Lobos at Arizona, 6 p.m. (MT).
Radio: 610 AM The Sports Animal
Online: GameTracker, Video, game story on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In searching for a gym and an opponent to change some of the things that went wrong at Texas Tech, Lobo coach Don Flanagan could have chosen a fatter foe, a softer site.
The lean Arizona Wildcats have some claws. The McKale Center should be rocking especially in the second half of this Cat doubleheader when the fans for the Arizona men add their voices to the Cats' cause.
To use a Flanagan term, Arizona has a "nice team." They also sound a bit like the Tech team that beat the Lobos 65-55 in Lubbock. The Wildcats have some height and some jumpers inside. The Cats have quickness up front, decent depth and like to harass teams with pressure defense.
In Arizona's last outing, an 84-57 pounding of Nevada, the Wildcats' defense forced 28 turnovers and scored 36 points off those errors in rolling to Arizona's biggest win of the young season.
Arizona freshman Davellyn Whyte scored 19 points and the Cats rode their home court to quick 10-0 lead and never looked back. That's one of the challenges for any visitor in a hostile gym. You don't want the home team to go on scoring spurts that give it confidence and a sense of looseness. Arizona also used a 14-1 second-half run to put away Nevada.
The Lobos allowed Tech to post a nice run in Lubbock that UNM rallied from, but never recovered from. Flanagan said the loss at Tech was disappointing in that his Lobos didn't play with enough aggression and didn't shoot well. He plans for that to change in Tucson.
"It's another tough away game," said Flanagan. "They're athletic, quick and have a real good, athletic post player, who likes to block shots."
Flanagan has been looking for a workable post combination between Jessica Kielpinski and 6-foot-6 Valerie Kast. Kast is making things easier on her coach by coming off the bench in the past two games to toss in double figures. Kast's ten first-half points at Texas Tech was a big reason UNM stayed with the Raiders in the first half.
At Arizona, the physicality -- or lack of it -- is something Flanagan hopes to change, too. Obviously, UNM has been hurt by the absence of 6-foot Eileen Weissmann, who is out with an ankle injury. Weissmann has played in only two games for only 14 minutes.
"It would be nice to have Eileen back," said Flanagan. "That gives us another physical kid and we're lacking in the physical part of the game."
One part of the game the Lobos are supposed to have in 2009-10 is the part that puts the ball in the hoop. At Tech, UNM shot 34.9 percent from the floor, 26.7 percent from 3-point land and 53.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Flanagan said he was a "little disappointed at Tech that we didn't play harder. I thought statistically we did everything we needed to do, but we didn't score. We didn't shoot well. I want more confidence (in shooting) and that's something we're going to work on. But I don`t see that lack of confidence in practice."
Senior Amy Beggin leads the Lobos in scoring despite playing on an ankle not yet 100 percent following off-season surgery. She scores at a 14.4 clip followed by Lauren Taylor at 10.9 and Sara Halasz at 10.8. Amanda Best, a wing, leads UNM in rebounding at 5.5 and scores 9.8 points per game.
Beggin enters the Arizona game with an ankle that is sore and puffy, but refused to admit the injury is bothering her play. She also has no excuses for any of the Lobo losses.
"I don't think (injuries) should be an excuse for things not going right or things not clicking," said Beggin. "I think we have enough talent on this team, enough leadership on this team, where we should be rolling no matter who is out there."
"I think we're ready to get over that hump and start winning again, start playing well again."
The Lobos come into Tucson with a 5-3 mark. The Wildcats are 5-1, but were picked to finish ninth in the Pac-10. They do have two of the more athletic players in the Pac-10 behind Whyte, the Arizona Prep Player of The Year, and Ify Ibekwe.
Ibekwe led Arizona last year in scoring (15.7, rebounds (11.6), field goals (173), free throws (109), blocked shots (52) and steals (60). She was the only player in the Pac-10 to average a double-double and finished tied for sixth nationally in rebounds.
This season, she leads the Wildcats in each of those categories, sharing the team lead in field goals with Whyte at 28. Ibekwe also paces the team with 20 assists.
"They have a couple of really good post players," said Beggin. "We have to make sure we know where they are at all times, not letting them establish position down low."
Ibekwe is the post UNM has to worry about most. The 6-foot-2 junior averages 13.5 rebounds and has 12 blocked shots this season. Brook Jackson is a solid guard with an 11.7 average and 6-1 Soana Lucet scores at an 11.5 clip.
The Cats have quickness out front and a scoring presence inside, but Arizona also plays solid defense. The Cats held Ole Miss to 32 percent shooting and limited Nevada to 29 percent shooting.
"They have improved a lot since last year," said Flanagan.