Stevens: A Look at the 2013 Women's Mountain West Basketball Race
Jan. 3, 2013
New Mexico Lobos Women Basketball - In The Mountain West
Wednesday - Jan. 9: 8 p.m. (MT), New Mexico Lobos at UNLV Rebels - Las Vegas
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
As Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez tries to shake things up and re-intensity her Lobos for the upcoming Mountain West wars, let's see if we can shake out the major contenders in that three-month battle.
As Sanchez put it a few weeks back, the race looks pretty much wide open for any team that puts it together for that MW run. She thinks her Lobos have the talent to make a push for the title, but need to add a little more "want-it" spice.
Sanchez is shaking the spice shakers this week.
WYOMING COWGIRLS: In the pre-conference games, Wyoming has put it together the best and has a nice 10-2 mark. Wyoming is paced by senior forward Chaundra Sewell (14.5 ppg) and Kayla Woodwood (13.4). They also are paced by solid "team" play.
Sewell can be dominating. She had 34 points and 17 boards in Wyoming's 84-68 smear of Loyola Marymount. She has yet to hit the MW courts, but she should be a candidate for MW Player of The Year. She paces Wyoming in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, shooting percentage and steals.
The Cowgirls are not an electrifying team, but they are a Joe Lergerski-coached team which means they will do the fundamental things well: rebound, play defense, take good shots and screen, screen, screen.
Wyoming's record is partially the product of a mushy schedule, but the Cowgirls do a lot of things the right way. They out-rebound teams by seven boards a game. They outshoot teams by nine percent from the floor and 11 percent from 3-point range. They hold teams to under 60 points on defense. They have four players with double-figure scoring averages.
If you want a comparative score to put the Cowgirls into simplified perspective, note that they lost at Colorado by nine points on the same floor the Lobos lost by 45. It's fair to expect Wyoming to be in the race simply because they do the simple things well and they are passionate about guarding their home court.
And they have Sewell and four other starters back from 2011-12.
SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS: The Aztecs were the preseason pick to win the 2013 title. They won the regular-season and the MW tourney title in 2012 and Aztecs' senior guard Courtney Clements was the preseason pick for Player of The Year.
The Aztecs aren't polar opposites of Wyoming, but where the Cowgirls are fundamental, the Aztecs prefer to be electrical. The Aztec players don't always put an emphasis on shot selection and often lean on their athleticism. They often get away with it.
Clements, the Mountain's 2012 Player of The Year, is doing her part averaging 18.3 points and 5.4 boards. She is 20-of-22 from the line. The Aztecs also have one of the top point guards in the West in Chelsea Hopkins, who averages 7.1 boards and 7.2 assists. Hopkins turned the rare triple double - 22 points, 11 assists, 10 boards - in SDSU's 88-72 win over SMU.
There is no reason not to expect the 9-4 Aztecs to be in the 2013 MW race. They return their top four scorers from last year's title team and three of their four losses so far this season came to Pac-12 teams on the road.
The fourth loss was by eight points to then-No. 14 Oklahoma State. SDSU lost by 14 points at Colorado. It appears the Aztecs are playing better lately. If they shoot well during the MW season and cut down on turnovers, they will be a tough team to beat.
FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS: The Bulldogs were the preseason pick to finish runners-up to the Aztecs, which might have lite a fire up in Wyoming.
The Bulldogs opened with a respectable 11-point loss at Stanford, but haven't exactly "wowed" anyone on the scoreboard since. They have no impressive wins and no embarrassing losses. They look like an average team with the potential to be above average.
They have a solid 7-5 record and have a front-line MW player in Ki-Ki Moore, who averages 15.8 points. The Bulldogs are in the same situation as Sanchez's Lobos. They need to turn it up a notch in order to contend for the MW title. Fresno State is shooting 38 percent from the floor and 66 percent from the line.
That might be one key for Fresno: run better offense, take better shots. The Bulldogs have good depth, a good supporting cast for Moore, but the Bulldogs' level of play needs to go up or they might be looking down at Wyoming, SDSU and a few other MW teams.
UNLV LADY REBELS: This is a good time to talk about UNLV for two reasons. The Lobos open MW play at Vegas and the Rebels were picked to finish third in the 2013 race.
So far, the Lady Rebels (4-10) do not look like the third best team in the Mountain. It's reasonable to expect a few good teams will get a breakthrough road win at UNLV so the Lobos might want to keep pace by knocking off the Rebs -- before UNLV starts playing better.
The Lady Rebels are struggling. They have lost three straight and five of six. They, like the Lobos, have nine days to prepare for this game and need to change a few things, add a few things.
The Lady Rebs, traditionally, could use a crash course on fundamentals and discipline once or twice a week. They are typically athletic and, like SDSU, sometimes lean too much on athleticism to win games.
They often are aggressive on the front end of their defense but not as disciplined once a team penetrates the presssure.
They are shooting 37 percent from the floor, turning the ball over too much and their opponents have an amazing 69 more assists. Vegas shoots 24 percent from behind the line and gives up 69 points on defense. Those numbers are a few reasons the Rebels are 4-10 heading to their game with Lobos.
Two factors in UNLV's favor - and why they were picked No. 3 in the preseason poll -- are Kelli Thompson and Alana Cesarz, two of the top players in the league. The 6-foot Thompson is averaging 18.2 points and 6.9 rebounds. Cesarz, a 6-1 forward, clocks in with a 16.4 scoring average and hauls down 7.9 boards a game.
If you look at records heading toward the Mountain West openers, you have to give the edge to Wyoming and San Diego State - but not yet by a whole lot. There are several teams below Wyoming and SDSU, who have the talent to challenge and the Lobos and UNLV are two of them.
The next tier includes Boise State (7-6), Nevada (5-7) and possibly Colorado State (3-9). The Air Force Falcons (1-12) appear to be in a quest to avoid the cellar.
What the Lobos need to do is the same thing that a lot of Mountain West teams need to do: change things, add things - step it up.