Stevens: Improving Lobos Host League-Leadiing SDSU Aztecs

Feb. 14, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Women's Basketball -- In The Pit

Wednesday: 7 p.m., San Diego State at New Mexico
On The Air: 610-AM KNML Game Recap, Statistics, LoboTV, Game Tracker

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/

For a Lobo team looking to get on a two-game roll for the first time in 2012 and for the first time in Mountain West play, this might not be the team you want to play: league-leading San Diego State.

Then again, if you want to really put a stamp of improvement on your team, maybe this is exactly the team you want to play.

The Lobos picked up a huge win in Laramie and have the chance Wednesday in The Pit to roll out back-to-back wins for the first time since New Mexico State and Houston fell on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2.

However, the cloth that Aztecs are cut from is much finer material. The Aztecs are the class of the Mountain West standings at 8-1 and trying to stay a game ahead of Colorado State, which is at 7-2. There is a logjam in the race for the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Mountain West Tournament with TCU, UNLV and Wyoming at 5-4.

Yes, the Lobos win in Laramie damaged the Cowgirls. Yes, a win over SDSU in The Pit would put some hurting on the Aztecs.

That hurting won't come easy for the Lobos. The Aztecs are 18-5 overall and trying to firm up an at-large NCAA bid in case they don't roll through the Mountain in Vegas. L

The Aztecs are No. 2 in the Mountain in offense scoring at a 70.1 clip and No. 1 in defense with a 55.1 yield. The Lobos are No. 2 in defense at 56.9, but SDSU is plus 11.3 and UNM is at minus 1.6 points in the Lobos' 23 games.

Obviously, tempo is huge in this game. The Lobos want to see a precise and patient half-court game with Caroline Durbin curling and breaking off screens. The Aztecs would like to see more helter skelter basketball with lots of running and transition.

If the Aztecs run, a Lobo upset becomes more difficult.

"We're getting better at a lot of things," said Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez.

The Lobos didn't do too many things well in San Diego when the Aztecs put a 77-47 hurting on UNM. The Aztecs pressured UNM into 20 turnovers and since 15 of those turnovers came off SDSU steals, that meant the Aztecs were off and running.

The Aztecs had 37 points off turnovers. That's a lot. SDSU scored 16 fast-break points to zero for the Lobos. The Lobos rarely run, so not scoring in transition is no big deal. However, the Lobos can't let the Aztecs snatch away balls and run, run, run.

"We need to keep it close and put ourselves in that position (to win) in the last four or five minutes," said Sanchez.

The Aztecs run an offense, but a lot of their attack is based on one-on-one penetration and transition scoring. The Aztecs score more than the Lobos (66 points to 55), but the Lobos have more assists a game. Obviously, the Aztecs attack.

UNM's attack is often two-pronged with Caroline Durbin inside and outside and Porche Torrance doing most of the work inside. Durbin has scored 23 and 27 in her past two outings. "I would assume they'll be three people on her from San Diego State," said Sanchez, only partly tongue-in-cheek. "They'll probably leave two people open."

It helps when UNM can get additional scoring from another source. In Laramie, Sanchez got 11 points from Nikki Nelson and 10 points from Lauren Taylor. Those two seniors combined to go 5-of-6 from 3-point range. It was a winning combination.

"It was nice to see Nikki and Lauren back in there; their shooting rhythm," said Sanchez. "Those two were a huge factor."

So, were the Cowgirls maybe looking past a UNM team they beat in The Pit? Maybe. Will the Aztecs be a little flat for a Lobo team that SDSU beat by 30? Let's hope so. The Lobos are playing better and this time they are in The Pit.

"It's going to be a tough environment for them, I think," said Sanchez.

Yeah, The Pit will help. The Lobos also need to take care of the ball. They showed ball improvement at Laramie (12 turnovers), but the Aztecs attack in fierce waves of quickness.

"The biggest thing we have to eliminate against them is turnovers," said Sanchez. "We're a different team. It's nice to see their improvement. That just shows the character of the team. They still care. They still want to do well and they still want to win."

The Aztecs are led by Courtney Clements, who tops the Mountain with her 16.9 average. SDSU's Chelsea Hopkins might be the best point guard in the league and is averaging 6.4 assists a game. Obviously, she likes to kick the ball out to Clements. Clements scored 19 vs. UNM in Game One. Hopkins had seven assists and three steals.

"You can't let Clements shoot from the perimeter," said Sanchez. "When she takes shots within their offense, she is very good.

"We have to give them one-and-done," said Sanchez. "If they score on their first shot, so be it. If they miss, we better get that rebound."