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STEVENS: Lobos' Constant On the Road is Defense, Defense
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  01/22/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Jan. 22, 2010

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    Saturday: Lobos at Colorado State, 2 p.m., Fort Collins, Colo.
    Radio: 610-AM KNML
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    By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

    When it comes to a constant that warms the deepest regions of Don Flanagan's fundamentalist basketball heart, there are a few basic ingredients his Lobos need to take to the court at Colorado State.

    His Lobos need quick feet, a dash of toughness, a high level of work ethic and a strong grasp of what the Rams are trying to do with the ball. That constant is defense and the Lobos probably will play solid defense at CSU Saturday afternoon.

    On offense, Flanagan might be pulling out a rabbit's foot, some rosary beads and maybe chanting a magic spell or two when his Lobos have the ball. Surely, the Lobo coach has to be holding his breath on occasion watching a Lobo bomb near its target.

    The Lobos (11-6, 3-2 MWC) shooting has been about as unpredictable as the wintry winds that sweep the high plains around the Rams' home of Fort Collins, Colo. Heck, sometimes it looks like Lobo shots are blowing in the wind.

    "In some games we shoot really well and in other games, for some reasons, we shoot really bad," said Lobo Nikki Nelson.

    Obviously, the bad shooting does not always produce good numbers on the scoreboard. The Lobos shot 26.8 percent vs. San Diego State and lost. The Lobos shot 23.7 percent at Utah -- a stunning 10.7 percent in the second half -- and barely lost (46-40). The Lobos' defense was a factor vs. Utah; not so much vs. the Aztecs.

    There are many important stats in a basketball game, but shooting percentage often is the most important factor because the nature of that category moves (or doesn't move) the scoreboard.

    In UNM's 17 games, the team with the higher percentage has won 16 of them. Toledo scratched out a six-point Pit win over the Lobos, but the shooting percentage was .362 (Toledo) to .367 (UNM). That's pretty much a wash. Toledo won that game at the line.

    The Lobos usually outshoot their opponents and average 41.1 percent from the floor to 38.8 percent for the enemy. UNM has won its 11 games by shooting 39 percent or higher. The Lobos have lost all six of their games by shooting below 37 percent.

    There are things you can do to help your shooting percentage: take good shots, hit open shots, make layups, run your offense. However, sometimes the shots simply don't fall. That's where the rabbit's foot and the magical chants come into play.

    And defense.

    "College basketball is funny," said Flanagan. "You want to get a consistent effort, but defense is probably the only thing you can depend on. You can limit a lot of teams just by your defense.

    "Defense will keep us in games where we don't shoot particularly well. The most important thing right now is staying in games."

    The Utah game is a great example of how defense kept the Lobos hanging around and gave them a good shot at victory despite shooting 10.7 percent from the floor in the second half. The Lobos were probably two field goals away from winning that game.

    Defense can be critical on the road because teams typically do not shoot as well away from their home rims -- and their home crowd.

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    The Lobos' game at Colorado State is an important road game because it is a place where a few MWC teams will sneak out with wins and a few teams will lose. Colorado State isn't great, but it's solid and the Rams are young and hungry. CSU is 10-7 overall and 2-2 in Mountain West play.

    "CSU has a nice team," said Flanagan. "They are very active and play with a lot of effort. They love to run up and down. They are the type of team, if they get hot, they can really bother a team like us.

    "You have to mix things up, not let them get comfortable in their offense. I have all kinds of little gimmicks, but if we play straight-up, man-to-man defense and do it well, we won't ever get out of it. We have to make sure defensively we are very familiar with what they do (on offense)."

    One thing the Rams do is try to get Kim Mestdagh open for shots. The 5-foot-10 guard averages 17 points per game. "She's a good shooter," said Flanagan. "You have to get over screens and they use lots of screens. Their inside players are pretty good, too."

    The Rams have decent size inside and get nice numbers from 6-2 Chatil Van Grinsven and 6-2 Meghan Heimstra. Van Grinsven averages 10.9 points and 6.7 rebounds and Heimstra chips in with 9.0 points and 8.8 boards.

    "They are very physical (inside) and they are shooters," said UNM`s 6-foot Eileen Weissmann.

    The Rams are 6-2 in Moby Arena, but have not yet won a MWC game at home. That stat has to be a spark for the Rams when UNM visits Fort Collins. "As soon as you overlook an opponent, that's when they sneak up and beat you," said UNM`s Nelson.

    The Lobos go north without Lauren Taylor, who is out with a knee injury. That puts one Lobo, senior Amy Beggin, in the lineup with a double-figure scoring average (13.8). UNM's Sara Halasz (9.9) and Amanda Best (9.1) join Weissmann (5.1) and Jessica Kielpinski (7.1) in the starting lineup.

    The Lobos have road wins at New Mexico State, at Arizona and at UNLV in which the Lobos played -- and shot -- well.

    "I feel pretty comfortable about our away-game attitude," said Flanagan. "The main thing is our defense has to keep us in the game and then we have to knock down some shots."

    Ah, yes -- knocking down shots. You can almost envision Flanagan rubbing that rabbit's foot as he walks into Moby Arena.

    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.

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