STEVENS: The Pit Is The Perfect Place For Lobos to Circle The Wagons
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/10/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 10, 2009

Lobo Basketball
Lobos vs. Air Force
When/Where: 7 p.m., Wednesday -- The Pit
On The Air: 610-AM KNML
Online: GameTracker; Live video on GoLobos.com

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In doing what Don Flanagan says his Lobos need to do, get "back to the basics," the setup is kind of perfect. His Lobos are in The Pit. They are playing Air Force.

No disrespect to the Falcons, but if there was ever a two-part formula for a quick confidence boost, this is it. The Lobos are back at their home base where Lobos rarely play poorly. They are playing an Air Force team which is 0-9 in the Mountain West Conference and 4-18 overall.

And it's not like the Falcons are just going to fall over or fall from the sky. The Falcons play hard and purposeful and to the end. They are a scrappy bunch and heart is never the reason the Falcons lose anything. So, the Lobos will have to work a bit if they want to restore the confidence that seemed to go up in smoke on the MWC trail to Wyoming and UNLV.

The Lobos lost 57-51 at UNLV and 52-50 at Wyoming for pretty much the same reason: they didn't hit enough shots down the stretch. Worse, it didn't seem like enough Lobos were willing to take the big shots when needed.

You add those two loses to UNM's last Pit date, a 53-50 loss to Utah, and the 16-6 Lobos are riding a three-game losing streak and trying to find the team that ran to a 16-3 mark. Flanagan said after the Wyoming loss that his Lobos "were a regular team." Flanagan doesn't like regular. He plans to make some changes.

"You can't let them carry that negativity around with them," said Flanagan, who has been looking for win No. 300 as a Lobo for three straight games. "You are going to lose some games. The most important thing is to regroup and play your best. We're back home. It's a good place to start and go from there."

One aspect of the UNM game that definitely needs to regroup is the UNM shooting touch. The Lobos shot 20.7 percent in the second half at UNLV. They shot 24 percent in the second half at Wyoming. The Lobos gave up healthy leads in both games.

Junior point guard Amy Beggin was the only Lobo to reach double figures in both games and only freshman Sara Halasz joined Beggin in double figures -- 10 points at UNLV.

"There are some players who are a little bit more competitive than others," said Flanagan.

Said Senior Amanda Adamson: "We just need to get back at what we were doing earlier in the season, attacking the basket, pushing it up in transition, having confidence in ourselves and our shots. We just have to turn it around."

The loss to Utah didn't hurt the Lobos that much as far as post-season play goes. The losses to UNLV and Wyoming, two teams near the bottom of the MWC standings, are not good. The Lobos need to circle the wagons and The Pit is a good place to start the circle.

"It's not the end of the world," said Adamson. "We have three (straight) losses. We're fine. We're going to get over it. We're going to get through it. It's a bump in the road."

Air Force might not be a bump in the road, but there are some potential bumps threatening on UNM's horizon. The Lobos (5-4 in MWC) still have to play at San Diego State, at TCU and at Utah. All those teams hover above the Lobos in the MWC standings. Utah is 9-0, SDSU is 7-2, TCU is 6-3 and BYU is 5-3.

"We have to take care of business at home and steal one or two on the road," said Flanagan.

The home business starts with Air Force, a team that just lost at home 55-37 to SDSU. A team that just shot 20.8 percent in that loss at home. But a team that outrebounded SDSU, 39-29. That's a stat that reflects the Falcons' work ethic. They might not always play well, but they always play hard.

"Air Force's measure of success is that they play harder than you," said Flanagan. "I'm not even sure they are all that worried about winning a game necessarily. They are just kind of saying, `We're going at you. Stop us.' We need to make sure we go out and play as hard as they do."

Flanagan bumped his starting lineup around at UNLV and put seniors Angela Hartill and Adamson on the bench. Hartill scored two points and had two rebounds on the two-game road swing.

"I don't think somebody should always be an automatic starter unless they are performing the best, game in and game out, at that position," he said. "I'm probably trying to jump start them a little bit and get their attention a little bit."

No. 300? For the fourth time, Flanagan will be going after win No. 300 as a Lobo. So, is four the charm for Don? Probably. UNM has won 24 straight against the Falcons and beat Air Force 73-39 earlier this season at Air Force. Flanagan said one of the reason he has stayed so long as a Lobo is because he "just keeps getting ready for the next game."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner