New Mexico Lobos Women’s Basketball – 2013-14 Season Preview
Exhibition Opener: 2 p.m., Saturday (Nov. 2) vs. New Mexico Highlands, The Pit
Season Opener: 3 p.m., Saturday (Nov. 9) vs. Loyola Marymount, The Pit
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The motto is more than simple words, even more than the two words that form it: Challenge accepted.
The creed that Yvonne Sanchez’s Lobos carry into the 2013-14 season strikes the Lobos on many levels. It means they must work harder. It means they must think harder. It means honest effort in rebounding, defense – in practice. It means they are tougher on the court – mentally, physically, in the paint.
It means they have wants.
“Our motto this year is ‘Challenge Accepted,’” said a senior Sara Halasz. “We have a lot to prove.”
The challenge the Lobos are accepting is to do things at a higher level in order to achieve better results. Simply put, the Lobos want to win more. They want to cut down nets. They want to go NCAA dancing. They also want to hang with the top teams on their schedule.
They want to take a step up.
“We can’t go lose to a Colorado by 30 or to Georgia by 30. We have to compete,” said Sanchez.
It’s fair to say that Sanchez didn’t quite have the bodies to compete in her first two seasons in The Pit. Those Lobos were hit hard by injury. There was too much inexperience. Already this season, two Lobos are down and out for the season: the 6-foot-2 Whitney Johnson and 6-1 freshman Lauren Newman.
Of course, that hurts. It weakens the Lobos inside. The loss of Johnson is particularly painful. She was looking at a breakout year. However, the loss of Johnson does not cripple Sanchez’s inside game. The Lobos have more bodies in 2013-14.
“We have a deep bench this year,” said senior Sarah Halasz. The talent and the athleticism also are pretty good.
“We can be kind of like those teams we had in the past where if they stop one person, three or four more would step up,” said Sanchez. “That’s the kind of team we want to have and I think we have players who can do that.”
The big loss from 2012-13 is Caroline Durbin. The loss of a go-to scorer usually is underestimated until a few crunch time challenges go unanswered. Durbin averaged 11.9 points per game which isn’t a huge number. But Durbin was clutch. She was go-to. She was willing to take the shot.
“This year it might be by committee,” Sanchez said of filling that Durbin hole. “I think it’s going to be better because when people stopped Caroline, that’s when they stopped us.
“Losing Whitney hurts, but we have people in that (inside) position. We still have Ebony (Walker). We still have Deeva (Vaughn). We still have still have Khadijah (Shumpert). Josie (Greenwood) is stepping in there. I’m impressed with what Kianna (Keller) has done.
“We have some ability to score and we have to utilize all that talent. Now, they have to do it under pressure.”
The Lobos might have lost Durbin, but they return the next four players on the scoring charts: Deeva Vaughn (10.1), Antiesha Brown (8.7), Sarah Halasz (7.4) and Bryce Owens (6.5). The injured Johnson was in the No. 6 scoring hole followed by Khadijah Shumpert at 4.0. Those Lobo returners are worth a few more points in 2013-14 and there are some fresh faces to help.
Consider this lineup when looking at a potent UNM attack: Owens, Halasz, Brown, Vaughn, Shumpert or Ebony Walker, a 6-2 transfer from Texas Tech.
“We need to be able to score inside and outside,” said Halasz. “Our guards are good, but we are stronger inside than we have been in the past. We have more athleticism. One of our goals going into the season is to use our speed. We want to run. We want to run on teams. We want to be up there with teams that can run.”
Said Brown: “We have a lot of heart and a lot of cohesiveness. We have athletes and we’ll run the floor. We’re shooting a whole lot better and our inside game is a whole lot better. We can (score) all the way around and teams are going to have to learn how to play us.”
The Lobos ran to a 17-14 mark in 2012-13 which was a nice jump from the 11-20 campaign of 2011-12. Here is a look at three areas of the Lobo attack for 2013-14:
Bryce Owens is an outstanding point guard with a variety of impressive tools. Probably one big key to her upcoming season is Owens realizing how good she can be. She gives New Mexico a dynamic leader out front whose decision making should take a big stride forward in 2013-14.
She led the Mountain West freshmen in assists, minutes played and finished No. 3 in scoring. She has the potential to be one of the league’s top scorers this season.
One factor that helped, and hurt, Owens last year was all those minutes played. She averaged more minutes (30.5) than any Lobo, including Durbin. At times, she played tired. She has more help this season.
A big addition out front is 5-4 Brooke Allemand – a high-energy freshman out of Fair Oaks Ranch in Texas.
“I have a lot of faith in Brooke,” said Sanchez. “It will be nice for Bryce to get a little rest which didn’t happen much last year. We’d take her (Owens) out, but we had to put her right back in.
“Brooke is a very savvy point guard. She is a relentless, tireless kid. She handles the ball well and shoots the ball well. Having two at the point will really help because we won’t wear them down.”
The Lobos also have 5-4 Marissa Perry of Albuquerque’s Hope High out front and the 5-10 Antiesha Brown – the Mountain West’s Sixth Player of The Year – is versatile enough to run the point.
The Wings/Off Guards
You have to give the edge here to Halasz and Brown. This is a nice combination when Sanchez wants quickness, basketball IQ and scoring.
Brown came on strong last year after sitting out a season due to a transfer from Texas Tech. She got better and more aggressive as the season progressed. She scored 26 at Air Force and gives UNM an aggressive slasher, who also can hit the trey.
“Tiesh is back stronger and much improved,” said Sanchez. “She is playing with more confidence and she has the athletic ability to help us on both ends of the court.
“Sara is a mature player and a mature leader. She is like a calming force out there but she is playing like the Sara of old.” Halasz had to sit out back-to-back seasons after knee surgery. She averaged 23.5 minutes and 7.4 points last season.
There are a lot of options for Sanchez on the edge. The 5-10 Brea Mitchell returns for her sophomore year and UNM has added a talented freshman in 5-11 Alex Lapeyrolerie, a Texas All-State selection.
“Brea has come in in better condition, more focused and she could compete for some minutes,” said Sanchez. “She loves to play the game and we need to get her some minutes to see what she can do.”
If Sanchez wants some size on the edge, the 6-foot Vaughn is versatile enough to go outside and she also can hit the trey. “People pretty much know what Deeva can do,” said Sanchez. “If we put her on the wing, she can shoot it or take a smaller guard inside and post up.”
THE INSIDE LOBOS
Johnson had a great chance to earn the starting job at center, but that now looks like an early battle between the 6-foot Shumpert and the 6-2 Walker.
Walker might have the edge in physicality, but Shumpert quietly goes about her business and produces. Shumpert averaged 11.6 minutes, 4.0 points and 2.5 boards last year. Those numbers should go up.
“She is playing as well as any post player right now,” said Sanchez of Shumpert. “She’ll get a lot of minutes because she has worked hard to get better.”
The 6-2 Walker probably is UNM’s strongest post. She went from Sandia High to Texas Tech to New Mexico. She averaged 6.5 minutes her sophomore year in Lubbock and sat out last year at UNM. Walker: “We are expecting Ebony to be a beast inside,” said Sanchez. “She should fill a void physically that we haven’t filled in a long time.”
The 5-11 Greenwood also is an option inside and also on the wing. “She is an undersized post, but she understands the game very well,” Sanchez said of Greenwood. “ She is an extremely hard worker.”
The tallest Lobo is 6-4 Kianna Keller, who has shown good aggression and mobility in practice. “She can go four (forward) or five (center),” said Sanchez. “She can handle the ball and she gives us a lot at that (inside) position.”
UNM also has the 6-2 Maddie Muraida and 6-foot Alexa Chavez inside. Muraida is more a post and Chavez is more a forward. “Alexa is not that far off from playing,” said Sanchez. “She works her tail off and she is a good, fundamentally strong basketball player.”
Sanchez can start an experienced lineup with good scoring potential and athleticism. Her depth looks good, but a lot of that depth has yet to prove itself on the D-I level. The Lobos need to avoid the bad stretches of basketball that pushed them out of too many games last year. “We have to play more upbeat and be more aggressive,” said Halasz. “ Last year we hit some slumps and couldn’t dig ourselves out of holes.”
The Lobos are not a big basketball team and need to make up for that shortage with intense effort in rebounding and in defense. They probably will need to be productive in transition scoring. They need to take better care of the basketball and honor possessions by producing good shots.
“The conference is tough,” said Halasz. “The Mountain West is always up and down. You don’t know who is going to bring it. I think that’s good for us because we’re ready to play and we’re ready to accept that challenge.”
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.