Stevens: Sanchez's Lobos Plan To Run With Rebels in Mountain West Opener

Jan. 8, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Women Basketball - On the Mountain West Road

Wednesday: 8 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico (8-5, 0-0 MW) at UNLV Lady Rebels (4-10, 0-0)
On The Air: 610-AM KNML with Joe Behrend; video stream on GameTracker, Game Story, Statistics

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

Do you dare run with the UNLV Lady Rebels in Vegas?

Yvonne Sanchez's Lobos are thinking about it. UNM's Deeva Vaughn says a key to the Lobos leaving Las Vegas with a Mountain West win is to beat the UNLV Lady Rebels at their own game.

"Transition, pushing, just running up and down the floor like they are going to run us," said Vaughn of UNM's Mountain West opener at UNLV.

The Lobos have at least one advantage over UNLV in an up-tempo game. The Lobos have more bodies. "We are deeper than they are," said Sanchez. "We can try to wear them down."

In a way, that strategy is a gamble. The Rebels are an athletic team that typically runs well in Cox Pavilion. However, this year the depth-challenged Rebs are 1-5 at home. They are struggling. If the Lobos outrun and outgun the Rebs early, will this fragile team fold?

"They are going to play extremely hard," said Sanchez. "It's been a struggle for them, but they are going to play hard."

The Lady Rebels have stumbled into their 4-10 record in part because they are missing their senior playmaker, Mia Bell, lost to knee surgery. That loss has forced the Rebs to lean heavily on 6-foot Kelli Thompson and 6-1 forward Alana Cesarz. Thompson is averaging 18.1 points and 6.9 boards. Cesarz clocks in with a 16.4 points per game and 7.9 rebounds.

This is a nasty one-two punch and one that UNM also can lean on defensively. If you contain Thompson and Cesarz, there aren't too many other Rebels that can beat you on the scoreboard.

The Lady Rebels get some offensive help from 5-8 sophomore guard Danielle Miller who averages 10.6 points. There usually isn't much UNLV point production after that. The supporting cast of Rebels does provide athleticism and pressure - but only about seven Rebels are seeing much court time this season.

"They are going to get ball into the post (Cesarz)," said Sanchez. "Kelli Thompson is going to take a lot of shots and she is a very, very good player. They just haven't been able to get over the hump."

For sure, the Rebels won't hesitant going up-tempo with the Lobos. Thompson and Miller like to run. So do a lot of other Rebels. UNLV probably has noted that UNM does not always take good care of the basketball. The Lobos had 23 turnovers and eight assists in a 45-point loss at Colorado.

"The way we lost is what stuck in our throats," said Sanchez. "Vegas runs a lot. They get a bunch of fast-break points. They press man. They press zone. They mix it up.

"They want to get up and down the court and take quick shots. You have to take all the little things away. We have to be ready for everything: press, zone, man, pressure; anything and everything."

The Mountain West opens play Wednesday for both men and women. Coach Sanchez calls the women's race "wide open," but acknowledges that Wyoming and San Diego State have to be given the edge going into the MW wars.

"It's a fresh start," said Sanchez.

The Lobos' 8-5 record is respectable, but UNM also is looking for a fresh start of sorts coming off their 45-point fall at Colorado. Sanchez is looking for better ball handling, more aggression on defense and more polish on offense.

"We need a little more energy and a little more push," said Sanchez.

Said Vaughn: "It's very important to get a road win after a loss like that (Colorado)."

One Lobo expected to provide energy and push is Antiesha Brown, the talented transfer from Texas Tech. "I like her because she is aggressive and she's not scared," said Sanchez. "And she brings that to our team.

"When they (Lobos) see Antiesha doing it, everybody kind of steps up and says, `This is a new level.' She has brought a lot of energy to our team."

Said Brown: "Energy is contagious. I'm hoping that my mental and physical toughness does rub off. We need to step up over overall toughness. Right now, we kind of have a chip on our shoulder. We have something to prove. The Colorado game was embarrassing. We have a lot of points to prove."

The Lady Rebels don't always play fundamental or disciplined, but they do come at you like a fist. They also might have some motivation as Sanchez's Lobos kicked UNLV out of the Mountain West Tournament in March of 2012.

"You can say it's just another game, but I think so," said Sanchez said of UNLV getting motivation from that UNM upset. "We were the team that knocked them out of the tournament on their home floor.

"I'm sure they have the article and different things up in their locker room. It doesn't matter in some respects. We have to go and play hard to win regardless of what motivational factors they might have or we might have. We have to match their intensity."