Tuesday, March 4 at 7 p.m. (MST)
Watch on the Mountain West Network
Listen on 610 AM The Sports Animal with Joe Behrend on the call
In its season-long march to the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team will make its final road trip of the regular season to Colorado Springs, Colo. on Tuesday evening. New Mexico will take on the Air Force Falcons for the first and only time in MW play as the Lobos will try to start building momentum towards Las Vegas. Tuesday night will also be Senior Night for Air Force’s trio of seniors.
The Falcons, who have been bitten by the injury bug, have struggled this season to a 1-25 record with a 0-16 mark in MW play. However, you can’t take any team for granted and Air Force is no different.
“I think this league has shown anyone can beat anyone,” New Mexico head coach Yvonne Sanchez has noted to the media this season. “It’s always tough to win in our conference and winning on the road is even tougher.”
Air Force is no exception.
The Falcons took UNM’s last opponent, the Nevada Wolf Pack, to overtime earlier this season. They have also played UNLV and San Jose State tough during their current 20-game losing streak. The series history between the two teams validates why playing the Academy anywhere is a challenge.
Coach Sanchez and the Lobos swept the season series last year by a combined eleven points. It took heroic efforts from Antiesha Brown at Air Force (26 points off the bench) and Deeva Vaughn in The Pit (23 points, 14 rebounds) for New Mexico to down Air Force by six and five points. The two close wins are part of a familiar trend; games decided by seven or fewer points.
Five of the last six head-to-head meetings have been decided by fewer than eight points, which is the exact trend UNM has been fighting in MW play in 2013-14. New Mexico’s last ten games have all been decided by seven or fewer points. It’s been an agonizing five weeks with the Lobos coming up short in the final moments of games.
After a hard-fought 60-55 loss to Nevada in UNM’s last game, Sanchez reiterated the demons the Lobos have been trying to exorcise since the end of January.
“It’s the same song and dance. We let it slip away from our fingers,” said Sanchez. “I wrote down in our pre-game talk that we had to finish. We didn’t finish. It’s tough. It’s just really tough.”
The Lobos have finished against the Falcons in the past and will need to again to get the ball rolling again for Sin City. The Cherry & Silver continue to make plays to keep them in the game against nearly all conference foes this season.
Sanchez’s Lobos have held their last four foes below their season scoring averages. The Lobos’ bolstered defensive efforts have held those last four opponents to an average of 10.3 points below their scoring average. New Mexico is also second in the conference in rebounding margin and blocks.
Sanchez noted the biggest thorn in the Lobos’ side in the final minutes of recent games.
"Turnovers will cost you the game and they have this season. We try passing through the defense in their zone. We’ve worked on getting through it, but we just turn the ball over way too much.”
UNM is eighth in the MW in turnover margin (-1.5) but is also ninth in free throw percentage (63.6%). The Lobos have shown they can take care of the ball and take care of business at the charity stripe on the road this season. New Mexico recorded eight turnovers at Wyoming while shooting 21-23 (91.3%) at the line in Laramie. In fact, UNM’s free throw percentage is nearly ten points higher on the road in conference play.
More importantly the Lobos have shown they can close out games. They sealed the deal against Wyoming and San Jose State in double-digit victories while recording wins over San Jose State and UNLV by seven or fewer points.
New Mexico will now look to finish versus Air Force to put an end to their finishing woes.