Stevens: Lobos Face the Press & Pressure of Undefeated UTEP Miners
Dec. 9, 2011
**Note: The Dec. 15 University of New Mexico women’s basketball game against Northern Colorado has been changed to a tip-off time of 6 p.m. Mountain time.
The Thursday night game will be played in The Pit and is the last scheduled home event for the Lobo women’s squad in 2011. New Mexico will close out the 2011 calendar year with road trips to Houston Baptist, Arizona and Rio Grande rival New Mexico State.**
New Mexico Lobos Women's Basketball - In The Pit
2 p.m., UTEP Miners (7-0) vs. New Mexico Lobos (3-5)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
You really don't need much to get Lobos riled up to play UTEP. First, they're UTEP. That's almost New Mexico State. The Miners are the next closest rivalry to those Aggies from Las Cruces.
If you need another reason to get Yvonne Sanchez'spack growling at the chance to play the Miners, it comes with a single word: undefeated. The Miners are 7-0.'
"We are ready to give them their first loss," said Lobo wing Jourdan Erskine.
Said senior Lauren Taylor: "They're a great team. I'm excited to bring them in and hopefully give them their first loss."
Sounds good - and the undermanned Lobos have thrown out supreme efforts all season. However, here's a scary score to put a little perspective into the 2 p.m. tip Saturday in The Pit.
The Lobos beat New Mexico State by one point in The Pit. The Miners stepped on the Aggies 63-27 in the Don Haskins Center. That's a 36-point pounding. Of course, UTEP had to go into overtime to beat NMSU in Las Cruces. Things change.
The point of those scores is that you don't want the 7-0 UTEP Miners to get on any kind of a roll and you definitely don't want to be turning the ball over to the Miner pressure. The Aggies had 25 turnovers at UTEP and shot 18.4 percent over that swarming Miner defense.
The Miners can make you look bad.
"UTEP is a very good team. They are a very scary team," said Sanchez. "Their athleticism is scary. They like to run. They like to drive to the basket. They have great balance in an inside-outside game. They play 12 players double-figure minutes."
That UTEP depth could be a huge factor Saturday. The Miners will come at teams in waves. Kayla Thornton tops the minute chart with 22.6 per game. Erika Warren is No. 12 in double-digit minutes at 10.7 minutes per game.
In UNM's last game, Sanchez had eight healthy bodies on her team of walking wounded. Six of those Lobos played 24 minutes or more and two Lobos played four minutes or less. It could be 12 on six Saturday.
The Miners' strategy appears to be simple enough: throw that wave of Miners at the Lobos and wear them down. The Miners will press at one end of the court and attack at the other.
"If can deny the outlet or jam the outlet and slow them down a little bit, and just get back, then maybe they won't push the ball down our throats and get easy baskets," said Sanchez. "They are athletic and they like to take the ball to the basket.
"It's a tough game. My concern against a team like UTEP that likes to drive a lot, is we just can't foul."
Said UNM's Erskine: "They are athletic and they like to drive to the hoop, drive to the hoop."
"I'm anticipating using both. I think," said Sanchez. "Nikki is still sore. I don't want to throw them out there just to try to get a win. When we hit conference, we want to have everybody healthy."
The 3-5 Lobos also have added walk-on Jaime Parker, a 5-foot-9 standout from La Cueva High. Parker has exceptional basketball skills, but Sanchez isn't sure if the Lobo rookie is ready to be thrown to the wolves from UTEP.
"She is still a little bit behind in conditioning," said Sanchez. "When she catches up, she'll help us. By the time conference hits, I hope she'll be comfortable enough to be one of the players."
The Miners are undefeated for the obvious reasons. They win the battle of the boards, win the turnover battle, and outshoot opponents 43 percent to 30 percent. The Miner defense is tough. They first try to take the ball away from you and then they'll badger you into taking bad shots.
They also like to run, averaging 74.7 points to 52.4 for the Miner enemy. The aggressive UTEP defense does give opponents an opportunity to use the free-throw line.
The Lobos have some talented transition players, but lack of depth forces UNM to rely heavily on a half-court game. The Lobos are paced in scoring by Caroline Durbin with a 15.4 average. Porche Torranceis the only other Lobo in double figures at 11.3. Torrance tops the UNM rebounding charts at 7.9 followed by Erskine with her 7.0 average.
The Lobos have been hurt by pressure - and ball-handling decisions - giving the ball away 156 times while creating 110 turnovers.
The Miners have the size advantage in 6-4 Kristine Vitola and 6-1 Kayla Thornton. The 6-2 Gloria Brown comes off the bench. The Lobos have the 6-5 Emily Stark, but she averages only 5.6 minutes and 1.1 points per game.
"They have two big post players," said Erskine. "We are undersized, but we're strong."
Said Taylor: "We have an internal confidence because we have such great chemistry. This team has so much poise for what we've gone through."
For sure, the poise factor will be a huge factor on Saturday. The Miners will try to destroy it. So far, the undefeated Miners have succeeded seven times and have yet to fail.