Jan. 17, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Women's Basketball - On The Mountain West Road
Wednesday: 8 p.m. (MT), New Mexico Lobos at San Diego State
On The Air: 610-AM KNML
GoLobos.com: Game Recap, Final Stats, GameTracker
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To put a twist on the Humphrey Bogart line from "Casablanca:" Of all the gym joints in all the towns in the Mountain West, the Lobos have to walk into the Aztecs'.
A visit to the San Diego State Aztecs' Viejas Arena probably isn't the first choice for any Mountain West team and it's an exceptional challenge for a New Mexico team reeling from a Pit loss and standing 0-2 in the Mountain race.
The Aztecs are 2-0 in the Mountain, riding an eight-game win streak, and have two of the best players in the league in Courtney Clements and Chelsea Hopkins.
The Aztecs, by virtue of their overtime win at UNLV, also have to be stamped the league's best team at this point in the young Mountain West race. Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez agrees:
"They are playing the best basketball right now that I've seen on film," said Sanchez. "Not that they aren't beatable over there. We're going to go in there with the mindset of trying to beat San Diego State. "It's not panic time, by any means, but it would be nice to go and get a road win."
SDSU -- 12-4 (2-0)
BSU ---- 11-6 (2-0)
UNLV -- 13-5 (1-1)
TCU ---- 8-9 (-1-1)
Wyo ---- 5-10 (1-1)
CSU ---- 5-12 (1-1)
UNM ---- 6-10 (0-2)
AFA ---- 5-12 (0-2)
That upset at SDSU will be a tough one to deliver. On paper (statistically), the Aztecs shoot free throws better than the Lobos, shoot field goals better, play better field goal defense, take care of the ball better, and rebound better.
They are 12-4 on the year and UNM is 6-10.
The Aztecs have the league's stop scorer in the 6-foot Clements (16.3), who can score inside and out. SDSU also has the league's best creator in Hopkins, 5-8 point guard, who averages 5.8 assists per game.
Hopkins is this week's MWC Player of The Week and the third Aztec to nab the honor. Her potential was seen last week in wins over UNLV and TCU when she averaged 14 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.0 steals.
Yes, Hopkins is a game-changer. Against TCU, she had 17 points and 13 boards. She also is in the MW's Top 15 in rebounding with a 5.8 average.
It's tough to guard this pair and if you foul them, they usually hit their free throws. Clements shots at an 81 percent clip from the line and Hopkins, No. 2 in the MW in steals, shoots at 72 percent.
"Courtney Clements, we have to limit her touches," said Sanchez. "Chelsea Hopkins, we have to limit her transition baskets and keep her off the (boards). They have the post and the guard and both positions are playing really, really well."
The Aztecs have a couple of All-MW candidates, but this is not a two-Aztecs show. SDSU gets backup scoring from Kiyana Stamps with a 10.5 average. Chairese Culberson hauls down 6.2 rebounds a game and 6-foot-2 Kalena Tutt averages 4.8 rebounds.
The Aztecs give their top five most of the minutes, but SDSU can go 12 deep as seven other Aztecs average nine minutes or more. The Aztecs are No. 2 in the Mountain in scoring behind Boise State and No. 2 in scoring defense behind UNM. This is a complete team at both ends of the court. The Aztecs top the MW in scoring difference at plus 12.1 points. They average 66.8 points and allow 54.8 points.
A key for the Lobos, minus 2.75 in the turnover margin, will be to handle the wave of Aztecs' pressure and not get worn down by the Aztecs' numbers. UNM is still without forwards Deeva Vaughn and Jourdan Erskine.
Sanchez said SDSU will pressure full court, pressure the ball on the wings, deny the entry pass to the post and "run a million sets."
The Lobos probably came close to grabbing MW Player of The Week honors off Caroline Durbin's 29-point effort in UNM's 52-50 loss to Wyoming in The Pit. Durbin went into that game with a target on her back, but the Cowgirls could not zero in on the talented Lobo.
SDSU likely will have a similar target in Durbin and her 15.5 scoring average; 21.0 in MW games.
"Caroline is so dang smart," said Sanchez. "She has the entire package. She has the three. She has the pull-up (jumper). She takes it to the basket." Sanchez said a key at San Diego is to get other Lobos involved in the offense and "Caroline will have her openings."
The Aztecs also will be trying to contain Porche Torrance inside. Torrance tops the MW in rebounding with her 9.2 average and 2.8 blocks per game (45 total). The Aztecs have a nice one-two combo inside in the 6-2 Tutt and 6-6 Mali Nahinu, who has 29 blocks on the year.
Sanchez said it's not yet panic time, but an 0-3 start would throw the Lobos in a quick hole on the Mountain, especially with a Pit loss staining their record. The Lobo coach said she won't go to San Diego with a must-win attitude.
"The most important thing is not to put a lot of pressure like `we have to win, we have to win.' But we have to get better," said Sanchez.
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2011-12 ROSTER/STATS
|Probable Starters||HT||Position||Season Statistics|
|12 - Nikki Nelson||5-5||Guard||4.9 Pts. - 2.6 Asts.|
|35 - Chinyere Nnaji||6-0||Post||1.9 Pts. - 3.6 Rebs.|
|24 - Caroline Durbin||6-0||Guard||15.5 Pts. - 4.3 Rebs.|
|23 - Porche Torrance||6-1||Wing||10.5 Pts. - 9.2 Rebs.|
|21 - Jayme Jackson||5-7||Guard||5.8 Pts. - 1.6 Asts..|
|The NM Bench||HT||Position||Season Statistics|
|11 - Lauren Taylor||6-0||Guard||6.4 Pts. - 2.1 Asts.|
|45 - Jourdan Erskine||6-2||Wing||5.8 Pts. - 7.1 Rebs.|
|43 - Emily Stark||6-5||Post||1.3 Pts. - 1.2 Rebs.|
|44 - Deeva Vaughn||6-0||Wing||6.2 Pts. - 4.3 Rebs.|
|41 - Jaime Parker||5-9||Wing||1.1 Pts. -- 0.4 Rebs.|
|33 - Maddie Muraida||6-2||Post||0.5 Pts. - 1.0 Rebs.|
|25 - Ashley Rhoades||6-2||Post||0.8 Pts. - 1.2 Rebs.|