Stevens: Lobos Can Cross The Line With Pit Win Over Aztecs
Jan. 25, 2013
New Mexico Women Basketball - Mountain West - In The Pit
Saturday: 6 p.m. (MT), San Diego State (13-5, 4-1 MW) at New Mexico (10-7, 2-2 MW)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In drawing an imaginary line in The Pit and daring the San Diego State Aztecs to cross it, the Lobos really have another line to consider, too.
The line drawn between the Mountain West contenders and the pretenders.
If the Lobos beat the Aztec team picked to win the 2013 MW title, the Lobos will step across to the positive side of that line. If they cannot beat the Aztecs, the Lobos will slide - at least temporarily - to the other side.
Simply put, it's time the Lobos proved themselves against a top tier Mountain West team and that opportunity presents itself in living color Saturday in The Pit.
"There is still room for teams like us," said Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez. "It's still a pretty open race."
The Aztecs are very good. They are on a four-game winning streak and sit atop the MW standings at 4-1 along with the Fresno State Bulldogs.
The lines of division in the Mountain are still being drawn. There are surely more shifts and turns ahead, but, for the moment, a three-tier landscape has emerged.
There is San Diego State, Fresno State (4-1) and maybe Wyoming (3-2) on the top level. These are the teams that Coach Sanchez has labeled as the top of the Mountain. There is Nevada (1-3), Colorado State (1-3) and Air Force (1-3) on the lower level with a single win.
And then there is the middle. For now, the Lobos (2-2) are in the middle along with Boise State (2-2) and UNLV (2-3). But the Aztecs represent a chance for the Lobos to step up a level. Which means they need to step up against the Aztecs.
"It would be a great jump for us," said Lobo Sara Halasz of a win over SDSU.
Said Sanchez: "We're in for a battle. Until somebody knocks them off, they are the best team in the conference. There is no question. They have two of the better players in the league in Chelsea Hopkins and Courtney Clements.
"They are just a very good basketball team. It poses some big challenges for us."
The Lobos also are massaging out a team that poses challenges. Sanchez has weapons and the team is developing depth.
"There are a lot of them to go around," said Sanchez of her depth. "It's not just one or two of them anymore. Our bench scoring is really outscoring (opponents' bench). We can sub people in and out and start wearing some teams out."
It will be tough to wear down the Aztecs. However, one huge addition to Sanchez's lineup has been Texas Tech transfer Antiesha Brown and not simply because of what Brown brings in talent and fight. That simple addition has allowed tiny shifts in lineups and substitution patterns and it has made a difference.
"We're running a lot better as a team," said Halasz. "Right now, I see it all coming together."To bring it together against the Aztecs, the Lobos need to contain Hopkins and limit the Aztecs' chances to run. Hopkins can take over a game. She had a triple-double (25 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in SDSU's 69-57 home win over Nevada. Hopkins is the first ever MW player to record three triple-doubles.
"She is tremendous. She makes them go," said Sanchez. "She is just a very confident player and scorer. We have to stop her early. If she is allowed to penetrate too deep, we are in trouble."
Hopkins, a 5-foot-8 senior, is averaging 13.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists. Clements, a 6-foot senior, is averaging 16.9 points and 5.1 boards. The 6-foot-6 Malia Nahinu is averaging 8.1 points and 5.0 boards and gives the Aztecs a consistent inside presence.
"That one-two punch for them is scary," said Sanchez.
The Aztecs obviously lean heavily on Hopkins and Clements, but few teams have been able to slow down that one-two punch - or slow down the athletic Aztecs.
"It's their transition offense led by Hopkins," said Sanchez referring to what UNM needs to stop on Saturday. "If we can stop their transition and make them run a half-court set, we have a chance. They are very good in what they do.
"They are very good defensively. They are very good in transition. And they rebound like crazy. They had 26 offensive rebounds against Nevada."
The Lobos seem to be approaching a groove and in their four MW games have four players scoring in double figures: Deeva Vaughn (13.0), Caroline Durbin (12.3), Brown (10.8) and Bryce Owens (10.0). Vaughn has a 6.3 board average in league play and is shooting .536 percent from the field. Owens has averaged 5.5 assists in league games; Hopkins is at 8.4.
The Lobos would like to score in transition before the Aztecs can set up on defense, but they don't want a run-and-gun affair. They do not want the Aztecs and Hopkins to run.
"I think we can push the ball on San Diego State, but we have to time it," said Sanchez. "We have to make sure we take what they give us."
One thing the Aztecs give the Lobos is an opportunity to cross a line or, as Halasz put it, make a "great jump."
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2012-13 ROSTER/STATS