Jan. 11, 2010
Tuesday: Lobos at Utah, 8 p.m., Salt Lake City
On The Air: The Mtn (Comcast 276, DirecTV 616); 610-AM
Online: GameTracker, stats, game story on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Was it a lucky rabbit's foot? Was it a magic potion? Was it a ghostly hot streak absorbed by Lobo Jessica Kielpinski as she innocently strolled by the distant tables at the South Point Casino?
Whatever it was that Kielpinski stumbled upon in Las Vegas, the New Mexico center needs to bring it along to Salt Lake City and splash it all over her Lobos. And then go attack those big Utes and their Huntsman Center magic.
The New Mexico Lobos went to UNLV looking at a discouraging 3-17 mark against the Rebs in Vegas and broke the bank - and the Rebs' offense - with an important 63-54 Mountain West Conference win.
It was a win paced by defense. It was a win paced by Kielpinski.
The 6-foot-1 junior, who strolled into Vegas with a 5.5 scoring average and a 4.5 average on the boards, helped carry the UNM offense with 18 points and 12 rebounds. It was one of those "career" nights a team needs from a player or two in order to snatch away a MWC win on the road.
On Tuesday night, the Lobos step onto a basketball floor in Utah in which luck and scoreboards usually turn against Lobos in even a worse way. The Lobos are 2-29 in Salt Lake City.
The Huntsman Center is where Lobo jump shots usually go to die - or turn into bricks. The Huntsman is to Lobos what The Pit is to most UNM opponents.
"It's a tough place to play," said Lobo Don Flanagan of the Utes' home. "Any time you play a team and a program as good as Utah and it's on their floor, you have to play well to expect a shot at victory."
This Lobos vs. Utes thing always has been a battle of special interest to both programs and fans. The Utes, led by coach Elaine Elliott, have long been the Queens of the Mountain and then comes along this Flanagan-led program to steal away some of the thunder.
Oh, the Lobos haven't made all the noise in the MWC, but they have caused more than a few dents in the Utah armor, especially at the Mountain West Tournament.
Still, Utah is more than solid and is the only MWC program against which Flanagan can't boast a winning record. And the Utes have had their way with the Lobos, of late, winning five straight.
A road loss at Utah would not be devastating to these Lobos. A road win would be a huge plum.
Utah has a solid starting five, a decent bench, but the Utes' big edge is the way they defend their home floor. Utah is 8-0 in the Huntsman this season. The Utes also are riding an 18-game win streak in Salt Lake City.
One thing is certain: the win at Vegas has to give the Lobos new confidence going into the Utes' unfriendly den. To beat the Utes, a visitor needs to shoot the ball well and play tough defense.
It also never hurts to have a Lobo go "career," like Kielpinski did in Vegas. UNM's last win at Utah (2007) was paced by a career-high 29 points from Katie Montgomery.
Flanagan said he was pleased with his defensive effort against UNLV, which was a big turnaround from the way the Lobos played in their 61-39 Pit loss to San Diego State.
A look at the Utah statistical charts make it easy to pick out a few Utes to target on defense. You start with 6-foot Kalee Whipple, who averages 16 points per game and then you jump to 6-foot-3 Taryn Wicijowski, who averages 14.4 points and 6.6 rebounds.
What the Utes have in this package is a nice inside-outside threat -- an All-MWC inside-outside threat. Whipple can pop from the perimeter, but also has the size to drive. She averages 5.2 boards per game. She is smart, tough and usually clutch. And not a bad defender.
3 Eileen Weissmann
10 Amy Beggin
11 Lauren Taylor
12 Nikki Nelson
14 Jourdan Erskine
20 Sara Halasz
22 Georonika Jackson
23 Porche Torrance
24 Caroline Durbin
32 Amanda Best
34 Valerie Kast
42 Jordan Unverzagt
43 Emily Stark
52 Jessica Kielpinski
Wicijowski is a tough mark for the Lobos' inside defense and Flanagan likely will blanket her with a combination of Kielpinski, 6-6 Valerie Kast and possibly 6-foot Eileen Weissmann. The tall Ute scored 16 points in a loss at TCU.
The Utes also have a nice threat out front in 5-6 Janita Badon, who averages 10.8 points per game. Halie Sawyer is the top Ute on the glass with an 8.5 rebounding average.
When in come to MWC stats, the Lobos have a new scoring leader in Kielpinski at 9.5 per (league) game. But the straw that stirs this Lobo offense is senior Amy Beggin with a 14.6 overall average. Sophomore Lauren Taylor is the only other Lobo in double figures at 11.7. Sara Halasz is close at 9.9 points per game.
The Lobos are more up-tempo than Utah, which is willing to wait for the 6-3 Wicijowski. The Utes are a solid rebounding team, but need to take care of the ball better on offense. That could be a weakness the Lobos exploit Tuesday night in Salt Lake City.
The Lobos carry a 9-5 overall mark into Utah with a 1-1 MWC slate. Utah is solid at 9-4 and stand 0-1 in the Mountain after getting hammered 62-41 at No. 25 TCU.
The Utes' defense wasn't so awful in Fort Worth, holding the Horned Frogs to 33 percent shooting. But the Frogs' quickness bothered the Utes on offense as they shot only 27.7 percent.
The Lobos might not be as quick on defense as TCU, but Flanagan's teams are fundamentally sound and typically play hard on that side of the court.
The Lobos ruled the paint in Vegas, outscoring the Rebs 34-12 in that lane. The presence of Sawyer and Wicikowski inside might make that tougher on the Lobos in Utah.
Well, unless Kielpinski has brought along that rabbit's foot - the one with all the mojo, magic and good luck.