Stevens: Sanchez's Lobos Eye A Second Mountain West Upset

March 8, 2012

Lobo Women - At Mountain West Tournament - Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center

Friday: 3:35 p.m. (MT), New Mexico vs. Boise State
Wednesday: New Mexico Lobos 61, UNLV Lady Rebels 58

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The "Pit West" isn't just a New Mexico fantasy. It's not a Shangri-La of fiction that Lobos fabricate to give them a Thomas & Mack Sixth Man that doesn't really exist.

This is no ghostly Vegas' dream.

Pit West is as real as a one-armed bandit or a Vegas floor show. The Lobo fans that flock to the Thomas & Mack to back their Pit darlings are real - and loud. They come in numbers. They come with passion.

For sure, Yvonne Sanchez's Lobos fed off that energy and love in their shocking 61-58 upset of the UNLV Lady Rebels. But you also have to credit the Lobos for this win.

They played clutch. They played as a team. The reliable one-two punch of Caroline Durbin and Porche Torrance turned into a one-two-three-four punch as Nikki Nelson and Lauren Taylor also stepped up.

The Lobos won because of good decisions, good ball handling and good defense -- and good coaching.

These aspects of Sanchez basketball combined to form MW tourney history as the UNM win was the first time ever that a No. 7 knocked off a No. 2 seed.

Now, the Lobos have to do all that stuff again. They have to knock down Boise State, a No. 6 seed, which, on paper, does not seem to be as daunting a task. On the court, it's no easy chore.

The Broncos swept the Lobos during the regular season, but are not as athletic or quick as the Lady Rebels. The Broncos probably won't be able to attack the glass as effectively as the Rebs did.

Probably, they are better shooters, better fundamentally, and more disciplined than the Rebs. They present other problems.

They showed some of that basketball in upsetting No. 3 Colorado State 68-63. The Broncos looked good. So, did the Lobos.

The quest for both Lobos and Broncos is to push past Friday's semifinals and throw a Herculean effort at the survivor of the other semifinal between San Diego State and Wyoming.

The Aztecs are the No. 1 seed and the regular-season champions. They are expected to win, but the Wyoming Cowgirls team that pounded No. 4. TCU 61-44 probably played the best game in the quarterfinals.

It's not easy to win the MW tournament. It's not easy to get to the title game.

Boise State and UNM showed similar good stuff in their quarterfinal wins. They both refused to fold. They both hit big shots and made big stops on defense.

"I look forward to playing (UNM)," said Boise State's Lauren Lenhardt, who had 18 points vs. CSU. "It's going to be a tough game. They came here and beat the home team."

In a way, that makes the Lobos toppling of the No. 2 seed even more impressive. This No. 2 team was playing on its home dirt. The Lobos were impressive.

"They are getting healthy," said Boise State Coach Gordy Presnell. "They are going to be formidable. The Durbin kid is an amazing shooter. She is amazing at reading screens correctly. Porche can defend our posts pretty well, so we are going to have our hands full."

Said Sanchez: "Everybody is going to face guard Caroline; hold, grab, whatever they can do."

Durbin knows how to get open and she can shoot. She combined with Nelson to bang in four consecutive treys that helped pull UNM out of a nine-point hole and into a 57-55 lead.

The Lobos had four players in double figures vs. UNLV: Torrance (20), Nelson (14), Durbin (12) and Taylor (12).

The Broncos had four players in double figures, too. Lenhardt was joined by Kinzi Poteet with 12, Kati Isham with 15, and Heather Pilcher with 12. Boise State shot 46.2 percent from the floor and went 5-of-16 from 3-point range. They won the board battle over CSU, 37-33.

The day off probably doesn't help the Lobos much more than it helps the Broncos. Neither team is real deep and only pulls about two key players off the bench. The Lobos also lean on their three seniors: Torrance, Nelson and Taylor.

"They don't want to be done yet," said Sanchez.