Stevens: Sanchez's Lobos Need To Beat The Odds in Vegas
March 2, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Women's Basketball - At Mountain West Tournament
Wednesday's quarterfinals - Thomas & Mack Center -- Mountain times
Game One: 1:05 p.m. -- No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 8 Air Force
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The point that Lobo Caroline Durbin makes about the Mountain West Tournament is legit. All teams in Las Vegas, Nev., start with a new roll, a fresh deck, a new ray of hope.
As the Lobos' top gun says, everyone is 0-and-0 on the won-loss slate. And that is true. This is single elimination do-or-die, and the Thomas & Mack scoreboards also will start at 0-0 for all teams.
But, as it is with games in Vegas, you then toss in the odds and those odds are really the product of what teams have done up to this point. The odds also can't help but be formed by the seeds that teams carry into the Thomas & Mack.
You have to favor No. 1 seed San Diego State because the Aztecs were the bully of the Mountain block throughout the season, won the regular-season crown, and carry a fat 12-2 MW mark into Vegas. When they play well, there might not be a team in the league that can beat them.
But the Aztecs have some dents in their armor. They don't always play well. If you put a Lobo twist on some of those SDSU dents, you can see how rays of hope brighten up. The Aztecs lost to Colorado State. The Lobos beat Colorado State. So, doesn't that mean the Lobos can beat the Aztecs, too?
Of course, the No. 7 seed Lobos first have to worry about a quick and tall No. 2 seed UNLV team that swept the Lobos and are playing on Vegas soil. But there is favorable light to cast on that game, too. Vegas lost to Wyoming and CSU. The Lobos beat Wyoming and CSU - and hope grows.
Obviously, the Lobos have a tough Mountain to climb in Vegas and coming off a loss at Air Force has to have put some dents in the Lobo psyche. This was a bad loss. You can't discount that. Air Force took a 0-13 mark at the Lobos and an RPI rating in the 300s. The Lobos were the only league team to fall to the Falcons.
You have to give Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez credit for not harping on the bad luck and injuries that have tormented her first year as UNM's head coach. She took over a program that lost its entire freshman recruiting class (five players) and heads to Vegas with a roster that could have up to five other Lobos off the court: Sara Halasz, Whitney Johnson, Deeva Vaughn, Nnaji and Taylor.
What Sanchez does have in her favor is a pack of Lobos, who scratch and claw and do what they can to win. Durbin does it with her scoring touch and is really playing at an All-MW level along with center Porche Torrance. It will be interesting to see how those two Lobos are treated in the upcoming All-MW voting.
The MW tourney's ray of hope includes an automatic NCAA bid for the tourney survivor. This light might be calling to every MW team except SDSU, which is a strong candidate for an at-large bid.
The Lobos would have to win three straight to go NCAA dancing with the most likely scenario for that run coming with wins over UNLV, Colorado State and San Diego State.
Ouch, again. That would mean UNM would have to beat No.2, No. 3 and No. 1.
The season doesn't favor UNM's odds in Vegas. Their history does. The Lobos have five tourney titles and won three in a row from 2003 to 2005. The No. 1 seed has won the tourney only four times in the past 12 years.
But there also is the history of the tournament that does not favor New Mexico because never has the two teams with the poorest seed ever scratched their way into the title game. There simply have been too many high hurdles placed in front of them.
The odds are heavy against the Lobos, but, really, nothing has changed there. They might head to Vegas on a limp, but these Lobos also will carry with them that ray of hope and a suitcase of fight. "We're going up here to win some games," said Sanchez.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.