New Mexico Lobo Women’s Basketball 2013-14 Season Review
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
To bring the New Mexico Lobos women’s basketball season into fair focus, let’s first throw out a bit of perspective and ask a few questions.
What kind of hoop season would the Lobo men have had if Alex Kirk had been lost for the season?
And what if Cameron Bairstow quickly joined Kirk on the injured list?
And what if a third backup post – say Obij Aget – dropped out in the final weeks of the Mountain West chase?
That’s pretty much what happened to Yvonne Sanchez’s Lobos during the 2013-14 season. She lost Ebony Walker three games into the season. The 6-foot-2 post was projected to be one of the top post players in the Mountain West.
Prior to the season opening, UNM lost 6-2 returning letterwinner Whitney Johnson and 6-1 freshman wing Lauren Newman. In the stretch run of the Mountain West race, the Lobos lost 6-4 Kianna Keller, who ended the year tied for third in program history for blocks (six vs. Texas) by a freshman despite missing the final eight games.
These were major blows leaving major holes.
The edge that Sanchez had was being loaded with posts and having forward Khadijah Shumpert toss out a break-out year in the paint averaging 10.9 points and 6.0 boards on the season. The sophomore’s scoring increased by 6.8 points a game and 3.7 rebounds from her freshman year. She had a career night of 21 points and 12 boards in a win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Despite Shumpert’s emergence, there was major production lost inside – in scoring, rebounding, defense, presence. Sanchez also lost the benefit of varying her lineups and rotations. Can you envision a “big” lineup with Walker, Shumpert and Johnson on the back line? Well, there were a lot of things to envision, but the loss of bodies turned those visions into wishful thinking.
Sanchez could fall on this dagger of injury, but chooses not to.
“I’m not going to use injuries as an excuse. They happen. They are part of the game,” said the third-year Lobo Coach. “I just know we weren’t happy with the season. I’m not happy with the season, the players certainly are not happy and neither are our fans. There’s nothing fun about losing and we lost too many close games.
“If we could, we’d be back on the court playing again tomorrow. We want to get back out there. We are hungry to change things.”
The 2013-14 season was a rewind of sorts for Sanchez. It was supposed to be Sanchez’s first season with a full and healthy crew. It didn’t turn out that way.
It was a season of frustration and injury that helped squeeze too many losses out of close games. There was a hump in front of these Lobos most of the season and they failed to clear it eventually posting an 11-19 overall mark. UNM went 6-12 in Mountain West play, finishing ninth in the 11-team league.
“It was extremely frustrating when you talk about wins and losses,” said Sanchez. “But you saw progress in the young players. Bryce (Owens), Khadijah (Shumpert) and Brea (Mitchell) all improved. Kianna (Keller) improved throughout the year. We saw individual progress down the lineup. Our players got better and that’s important in developing a program.”
The Lobos started the Mountain West season at 2-1 highlighted by a dominate Pit win over Wyoming. The Lobos struggled to go 4-10 over the next 14 games, but most of the games – wins and losses – went down to the wire. Nine of the losses were by six points or fewer and in seven of the losses UNM was at least in a tie in the final minute.
“Losses always hurt and sometimes the close ones hurt even more,” said Sanchez. “I probably over scheduled, but we made that schedule thinking we had Ebony and Whitney. I think losing those players was a bigger blow than I thought and then we had to rely more on youth. I think some mental fatigue set in at the end of the year and a few players wore down.”
The Lobos found senior leadership throughout the season from sixth-year Lobo Sara Halasz and redshirt senior Deeva Vaughn. Halasz became the 18th member of New Mexico’s 1,000-Point Club and was the 13th Lobo to record 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds.
Halasz missed two full seasons (2010-11, 2011-12) due to knee surgery, but played in every game her junior and season campaigns – 61 straight games.
“Sara is such a special Lobo,” said Sanchez. “Not too many athletes can go what she went through and come back to have the seasons that Sara had. You just couldn’t keep her off the court. She is an exceptional competitor and has such a deep pride in being a Lobo.”
The Lobos also found a potential Mountain West star in Antiesha Brown, an All-Mountain West honorable mention selection, who has the athletic ability and the scoring touch to push her way onto the First Team in 2015. The smooth Brown was No. 8 in the MW in scoring with a 14.3 average and was 15th in field goal percentage at 44.1 percent.
She increased her scoring output by 6.3 points from 2012-13 and scored in double figures in 25 of 30 games. She grabbed her first MW Player of the Week award after going off for 28 points and 11 boards in a win over Loyola Marymount.
UNM’s Bryce Owens again showed she had the athletic ability and the court awareness to become one of the MW’s top playmakers. The quick sophomore had 97 assists this past season and is in the program’s Top 15 in career assists with two more seasons to play.
UNM opened the season with that 69-65 win over Loyola and also had big wins over in-state rival New Mexico State (65-55) and an impressive 75-65 Pit win over Wyoming. The Lobos closed the Mountain West season with back-to-back wins to carry into the MW tourney in Las Vegas.
The regular-season finale over San Diego State snapped a seven-game losing streak to SDSU and was UNM’s first win over the Aztecs in The Pit since the 2007-08 season.
The Lobos’ season ended with a 69-66 loss in Vegas to Utah State and Jennifer Schlott, the MW Player of the Year.
“We played hard every game,” said Sanchez. “You can tell when a team gives up and our team never did. We always knew if we gave the girls a solid game plan that they would go out believing that they could win and they would fight until the final second.
"There were only a few times I wasn’t happy with our effort. You have to like that quality in a team.”
It was that quality in the Lobos that again had the New Mexico program leading the Mountain West in attendance for the 15th straight season with a home-court average of 5,914. UNM also raised $5,494.50 on its “Play 4Kay Game” to benefit the Kay Yow Foundation and the UNM Cancer Center. That figure was one of the highest totals for women’s basketball program in the West.
“There was so much fight and pride in this team and a lot of that has to do with the special fans we are privileged to play in front of,” said Sanchez. “We can’t wait to get back out there because we weren’t happy with the season, but we also want to get back out there for our fans. We fully understand how special it is to play basketball at the University of New Mexico.”
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.