Stevens: Sanchez's Lobos Need To Protect The Ball & The Boards at UNLV

Feb. 17, 2012

New Mexico Lobo Women's Basketball -- On The Mountain West Road

Saturday: 4:30 p.m. (MT), New Mexico Lobos (8-16, 2-8) at UNLV Lady Rebels (18-8, 6-4)
On The Air: The Mtn-TV; 610-AM KNML Game Story, Stats, Game Tracker

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/

On their Mountain West trip to UNLV and the Lady Rebels' Cox Pavilion, Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez says her Lobos will bring "a glimmer of hope."

The hope comes from outscoring San Diego State in the second half on Wednesday. The hope comes from knowing that Wyoming won at Vegas and UNM won at Wyoming.

The hope also comes to these resilient Lobos in remembering that they shot a sizzling 61 percent from the floor in the second half when Vegas beat UNM 64-50 in The Pit.

There should even be hope in realizing that the Achilles Heel that gave the Lobos a bad limp in the first half of the Mountain race -- turnovers -- hasn't been such a sore spot in the second half.

The Lobos turned the ball over 21 times to Vegas pressure in The Pit. For sure, the Lobos' ball handling has improved, but the Lobos have not grown any taller and that was another problem in Game One.

The Rebs pounded the boards for 17 offensive rebounds and those second chances allowed UNLV to get off 16 more shots than UNM. That adds up -- on the scoreboard.

"We have to be physical down low in the post," said UNM's top paint producer, Porche Torrance. "Their post players are much bigger than us. We have to push them out of the paint."

Vegas isn't huge inside, but the 6-3 Lenita Sanford, 6-2 Sandrine Nzeukou and 6-foot Jamie Smith are not easily pushed out of the paint. The Rebs don't always shoot well, but they usually defend well and they always crash the boards.

"We can not give them second chances," said Sanchez.

The Lobos got a break in Game One when Sanford never left the bench thanks to a knee injury. She's back. The 6-3 Rebel had 19 points and 13 rebounds in UNLV's last game, a 55-54 squeaker Wednesday in Vegas over TCU.

"She's a physical presence," said UNM`s Lauren Taylor. "You have to be aware of where she is and making sure we get help (defense) for her."

The Vegas Achilles Heel -- shooting -- hurt the Rebs early vs. TCU. They missed 15 of their first 16 shots. Then Sanford took over.

In The Pit, with Sanford sitting, UNLV still went inside and got 17 points and nine boards from Smith and 12 points and 10 boards from the 6-3 Markiell Styles. Styles did not play against the quick TCU Frogs, but her power game is well suited for the half-court style played by the Lobos.

The Rebs often throw up bricks (didn't score in OT in losing to Wyoming), but they are athletic inside and outside. They like to pressure the edge and take away the 3-point shot. UNLV doesn't have a lot of depth, but still likes to run and score in transition. Kelli Thompson tops the Lady Rebels in scoring at 12.5. The quick 6-foot guard has scored 20 points in two of the past four UNLV games.

The Lobos' keys to victory are obvious:
1. Keep the Lady Rebels off the boards.
2. Limit their transition buckets.
3. Limit turnovers.
4. Make the Rebels shoot from outside.

Of course, the Lobos need to shoot well, too. The Lobos have a nice inside-outside touch in Caroline Durbin (15.5) and Torrance (11.0). "We rely on the Big Two quite a bit," said Sanchez. There is a drop in scoring after Durbin and Torrance, both in point production and shooting efficiency.

The SDSU Aztecs ran a lot of defenders at Durbin and tried to limit her touches and her open looks. Sanchez expects the same from UNLV.

"They'll probably do the same thing to Carolina that San Diego State did," said the Lobo coach, who added that UNM need to "get some other people involved (in scoring) early."

Another key for the Lobos is to get off to a good start. That good start includes starting tough. The Lobos scored only 10 points in the first half against SDSU.

"We challenged them in the second half," she said. "I told them they were playing soft. I told them from my perspective, the ultimate insult to an athlete is, `you're soft.' I think they took that to heart."