March 17, 2009
What: Lobos vs. Southern University -- 2009 WNIT
When/Where: 7 p.m. Wednesday, The Pit
On The Air: No TV; 610-AM KNML
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It's a tough game for Don Flanagan's Lobos to embrace. Sure, the Lobo women get to return to The Pit, but it's not like the gift the Lobo men received from the NIT.
The NIT was the only way the UNM men could bring seniors Tony Danridge, Daniel Faris and Chad Toppert back into The Pit. Flanagan's women and seniors Angela Hartill and Amanda Adamson could have returned to The Pit as guests of the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA will hold a first-round event in University Arena this weekend.
What the Lobos have to get excited about is that no matter what kind of label you place on Wednesday's game against Southern University, the fundamentals of what takes place in The Pit really don't change.
You have the Lobos. You have a trio of zebras. You have a game ball. You have an enemy of Lobos. And you'll have that special core of Lobo fans, which rally behind the UNM women the way momma bear protects her cubs.
Don't matter if this is NCAA or NIT - when the Lobo women play a foe in The Pit, they always have a fanatic sixth man. Most likely, the place will be jumping at a level that probably will exceed the vast majority of NCAA women's games played in March.
That's just the way it is with Lobo women and The Pit. UNM still holds the WNIT attendance mark when 18,018 packed The Pit on March 24, 2001 for the tourney's title tilt.
"It's a tournament and we get to play more games and that's what we want," said Hartill. "There is some (personal) motivation. I want to end on a good note. This is our last time playing in front of our awesome crowd. We're not going to slack off at all."
Said junior Amy Beggin: "Anytime you get to postseason in The Pit, it's something really special. It's going to be neat to go back and play in front of our crowd. A lot of teams wish they could be playing right now. Anytime you can be playing in March, it's good."
The peculiar thing about Wednesday's game is that it's a bit different than the games the Lobos had been playing in the Mountain West Conference. Those games almost reeked of familiarity because the Lobos were drilled on what teams like Utah and Brigham Young and Colorado State would be doing. The Lobos were familiar with each team's star players and their role players.
The Lobos go at Southern University cold turkey and ditto for the Jaguars looking at the Lobos.
"This is usually what you get the first game of the season, not in one of the last games of the season," said Flanagan. "But at this time of the year, I doubt if there is something we haven't seen."
On paper, the Jags don't look real intimidating. They have a single player in double figures in Deidra Jackson at 12.2 points per game. Their tallest starter is 6-foot-1 Jamie Floyd. After Floyd, the Jags go 6-0, 5-11, 5-9, 5-6.
The Lobos will not have a match-up problem in the height department and should find an advantage inside in the 6-3 Hartill. The Lobos have the edge in almost every statistical category including scoring (65.6 to 56.2), defense (54.6 to 56.3), field goals percentage (39.9 to 34.7) and field goal defense percentage (34.4 to 36.3).
The Jags are 16-13 and lost their NCAA bid by losing in the championship game of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The team uses a steady rotation of 10 players and is 5-8 on the road this season.
Flanagan said he hopes to use the game to give more court time to his underclassmen, but he also knows a win over Southern University will give him 40 more minutes of game time in Round Two of the WNIT. If the Lobos beat the Jags, they'll advance to a road game at Nebraska.
But win or lose, Wednesday's game marks the final Pit game for Hartill and Adamson because UNM will not be able to host another game due to other events scheduled for The Pit and due to the beginning of Pit renovations.
"You are always benefiting the program, if you are playing this time of the year," said Flanagan. "This is a bonus game for you and, if you win it, you get another one. It's the time of the year where you want to play your young people. Maybe not in the prime time, but play them and get them time on the floor."
The WNIT, just like the men's NIT, has some big-name programs in the field: Kansas, Arkansas, Marquette, Illinois State, Indiana, Syracuse, St. John's, Georgetown, Wisconsin, George Washington.
The Lobos are 6-3 in the WNIT and have never played a WNIT game outside The Pit. This year, with The Pit unavailable after Wednesday, the Lobos are hoping for a road game to Nebraska, a team UNM beat in Albuquerque earlier this season.
"Nebraska is a very good team in the Big 12. They are a tough team to beat," said Flanagan. "I would suspect that to be a tough road game. We would not scare them with our talent.
"I like this time of the year. I like the importance of one-and-done type of games. Those are good for me. I like to put it all on the line. The kids are more relaxed, but they are more focused because they know if they don't win, they don't get another one."
The Lobos definitely want another one and you can't help but believe they'll get it. The lean in statistics goes toward UNM. That's a key. But the real key is the site and how the Lobos play in The Pit.
For sure, this is the Lobos last game in The Pit in 2009. For sure, The Pit is going to get rowdy for it.