Stevens: Lobos Roll The Dice In Vegas -- at Lady Rebels

March 6, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Women's Basketball - At Mountain West Tournament

Wednesday's quarterfinals - Thomas & Mack Center - Mountain Times
On The Air:
All quarterfinals on The Mtn-TV; Lobos also on 610-AM

Game One: 1:05 p.m. -- No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 8 Air Force
Game Two: 3:35 p.m. -- No. 4 TCU vs. No. 5 Wyoming
Game Three: 7:05 p.m. -- No. 2 UNLV vs. No. 7 New Mexico
Game Four: 9:35 p.m. -- No. 3 Colorado State vs. No. 6 Boise State

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In Vegas, the house has the odds. That's how it is. But in the Thomas & Mack Center, do the UNLV Lady Rebels have the edge over the New Mexico Lobos?

Of course, you have to say, "Yes." It's the Lady Rebs' carpet. They trot over from their dorms or their apartments, park their cars, and slip into familiar digs. They carry no suitcases and do not sleep in strange beds.

They also have beaten the New Mexico Lobos twice this season. That has to help and hurt. The Lady Rebs will have confidence. Will they have too much confidence?

The Rebs are a No. 2 seed. The Lobos are a No. 7 seed, one peg up from Air Force. But when you roll the dice or roll out the basketball in Vegas, there is always the hope of rolling a seven and marching on.

"Everyone starts at zero," said Lobo Porche Torrance of the single-elimination fracas in the Thomas & Mack Center that begins on Wednesday and ends on Saturday.

"We feel good about it," said Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez. "We'll probably have more fans Wednesday night."

The deck is new. The slate for all teams starts at 0-0. The hopes and dreams are high. There is an NCAA automatic bid waiting at the finish line. There is new life.

But it's also the same old Lobos, which is good and bad.

For sure, the Lobos will scratch and fight with heart and pride. They are well coached and lean on solid game plans. Those things can win ball games. But the Lobos also have some physical limitations. Those things can lose ball games.

The Rebs are quicker and bigger. They also can be undisciplined in shot selections. If there is a major fault in most basketball teams, it's not realizing that a bad shot is very much like a turnover.

If the Lobos can shoot well and if Vegas doesn't shoot well ......

"This first one I think we can get," said Coach Sanchez. "I think they (Lobos) feel they can get this one."

By nature, Sanchez is a competitor. She envisions a Lobo win over a MW team every time her Lobos step onto the court. If you go by UNM's record, she has been right three times and wrong 11 times.

The physical limitations - buoyed by injuries and lack of depth - often are hurdles too high for these Lobos to clear.

But that was yesterday. The MW tourney is a new day. Sanchez also said Lauren Taylor and Chinyere Nnaji will see action vs. UNLV.

"I think we have something to prove," said Durbin. "Our record (9-19, 3-11) doesn't indicate how strong we are. I think we can go into this tournament and start winning."

That winning road will be a rocky one. If there are no upsets, the Lobos would have to march past No. 2 UNLV, No. 3 Colorado State and No. 1 San Diego State. That's a tough trek to the NCAA dance. That's also the Lobos' only path. There are no at-large bids for these Lobos.

The Lobos' plan against the Rebs is basic basketball: Hit shots, rebound, play defense, stop Reb penetration, limit UNLV second-chance points, and take care of the basketball. If injury hasn't been UNM's Achilles Heel this season, turnovers becomes the Heel.

"We practice it every day. We practice against pressure," said Durbin. "When we are on our heels, that's when we tend to make turnovers rather than when we are being aggressive and taking it at them."

Vegas is a tough team to attack. They are quick and they are big inside. They had a school-record four players named to the 2012 All-MW Team: Lenita Sanford (1st), Kelli Thompson (2nd), Mia Bell (3rd) and Jamie Smith (3rd). Sanford and Bell were on the All-MW Defensive Team.

Yep, these Lady Rebels are loaded and the 6-3 Sanford and the 6-foot Thompson are both front-line Mountain West players. Sanford averages 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. Thompson averages 13.6 points and 3.2 assists. They give UNLV a nasty inside-outside touch - just like Torrance and Durbin give the Lobos.

Torrance was All-MW Third Team and Defensive Player of The Year. Durbin was First Team All-MW. The are a two-Lobo wrecking crew that needs scoring help in Vegas.

The Lady Rebels might have the edge in comfort, playing at The Mack, but the Lobos usually rule the stands at this Vegas show.

"Our fans always come down and support us whether we are winning or losing," said Torrance. "If we can just feed off our fans' yelling and screaming, and helping us with momentum, I think we'll be fine."

Said Durbin: "Everyone has to step up. I think we are really confident. It doesn't matter too much that it's on their floor. In the tournament, very team is going to play hard. We just have to bring tons of energy for ourselves, for our seniors, for our fans, everyone.

"I think we can surprise them."

That's another thing about Vegas and the MW Tournament. You roll the dice. There are surprises, upsets, and maybe another roll.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at