Stevens: Lobos Plan Is To Sweep Air Force & Go Get Healthy

Feb. 28, 2012

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

Wednesday: 7 p.m. (MT), New Mexico Lobos (9-18, 3-10 MW) at Air Force (5-23, 0-13 MW)
On The Air: 610-AM, KNML with Joe Behrend Game Recap, Stats, GameTracker

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

Is there more pressure on Yvonne Sanchez's Lobos as they head up to Air Force than there will be when the New Mexico Lobos head to next week's Mountain West Tournament?


In Colorado Springs, the Lobos are looking at a 0-13 Air Force team that has been the whipping post for all other MW teams. The Lobos should win this game. But next week at the MW dance, as Lobo Caroline Durbin put it: "You have nothing to lose."

The Lobos take a 3-10 Mountain West record to Air Force and, win or lose, will go to Las Vegas as the No. 7 seed. Air Force will finish last and take the No. 8 seed to the Thomas & Mack.

The Lobos already know a few things about the MW tourney scene:

1. They will play at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7.
2. They will play the winner of the UNLV/CSU game to be played this Wednesday in Vegas.

The final standing in the 2012 MW race will see a final adjustment at that No. 2 spot. San Diego State is 11-2 playing Boise State and the Aztecs are the champions and Boise State will finish in the No. 6 spot. The loser of UNLV/CSU will drop into the No. 4 spot next to TCU with 9-5 marks. Wyoming finished 7-7 and has locked down the No. 5 seed.

What the Lobos need to do at Air Force is throw out a feel-good win and then scramble back to Albuquerque and check the team into a rehab center. Well, kind of.

"It's going to be huge," Sanchez said of the rest and rehabilitation the Lobos will put in prior to their March 7 tip in Vegas. "We need to get healthy and then go win some games."

Of course, the Lobos will go up to Air Force shorthanded. That seems to be UNM's destiny this season. Senior Lauren Taylor will not play, trying to heal a head/neck injury. Sanchez said her recovery is one key to UNM's success in Vegas.

"We need her for the Mountain West tourney," said Sanchez. There are a number of other Lobos who will be healing aches and pains prior to the MW tourney.

Still, the Lobos eye the Air Force game as an important one. UNM would like to register a sweep over the Falcons. UNM hammered Air Force in The Pit 67-44.

There also is a pride factor and a momentum factor. You don't want to be the only MW team to lose to the Falcons. The Lobos also need to carry a win into Vegas.

That win probably won't come as easy as it did in The Pit.

"Air Force is never easy for us up there," said Sanchez. "It's their Senior Night. I know they want to get a conference win and will do anything they can. But we're trying to get wins, too."

There are a least two reasons the Falcons can expect to improve the scoreboard in this game.

1. It's in Clune Arena - although UNM might have more fans.
2. The Falcons played without their top scorer, Alicia Leipprandt, in The Pit.

Leipprandt scores at a 13.0 clip, but it's not just the loss of her points that hurt Air Force in The Pit. The Falcons, like UNM, are not deep and when a front line player stays on the bench that makes a significant impact on rotations. You not only have to juggle the minutes, but often you end up with a player out of position.

Leipprandt had 16 points and seven boards in the Falcons' last game, an 86-48 loss to UNLV. Dymond James averages 12.3 points for Air Force.

The Falcons might have an edge in motivation, too. Remember, these are women of the armed forces. They have pride and they are facing a conference run with no conference wins. That has to hurt.

"It's their last game and they haven't won a game," said UNM's Porche Torrance. "They will be aggressive. We can't just think, `Oh-and-13.' They'll come out strong."

Said Durbin: "Air Force plays really hard at home. They are going to bring a lot of energy and we have to match it."

Air Force is last in the Mountain in scoring offense (53.9) and scoring defense (70.8). That helps explain UNM's 23-point pounding in The Pit. Air Force's scoring margin in 2012 is minus 16.9 points.

They also are last in the MW in field goal percentage (.339), field goal defense (.418) and 3-point shooting (.242) and 3-point defense (.340).

Air Force's best stat might be on the offense boards (No. 4 in MW), but that stat also has to be helped by all those missed Falcon shots. There are lots of Air Force jumpers turning into rebounds.

The Lobos go to Air Force looking to keep turnovers down, keeping Falcons off the boards, and finding someone to help Torrance and Durbin in scoring.

The Falcons probably will try to do what most teams do to UNM: Push Torrance off her low block and stick close to Durbin.

Durbin is No. 2 in the Mountain in scoring with a 15.5 average and is No. 1 in 3-point shooting with an amazing .533 percent rate. Torrance is No. 2 in rebounding at 8.7 per game and averages 11.3 points.

"I like the way we are playing and some of the things we are doing," said Coach Sanchez. "They aren't getting their heads down."