Stevens: Lobo Women's Basketball 2012-13 Season Review

April 7, 2013

New Mexico Lobo Women's 2012-13 Season Review

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In athletics, there is always a foundation goal - a blue-collar push that converts into simple improvement. An athlete, an athletic team, needs and wants to get better. That could mean jumping further or higher, running faster, scoring more points - whatever it takes to find success.

In the 2012-13 New Mexico Lobo women's basketball season, the push also was to improve, climb further up the Mountain West ladder, be more competitive, and win more games. The Lobos did exactly that.

"The biggest thing from our season was seeing the progression," said second-year coach, Yvonne Sanchez. "We came out with the goal to improve from a year ago and we saw that improvement and that was important.

"Now, we go back and work even harder. We know we still need to get better and we starting working on that the day after our season ended. The motivation from the players is outstanding."

In a way, the season of 2012-13 was Sanchez's first season going to battle with a full crew of Lobos behind her. Her first season at UNM was handicapped from the get-go by the loss of the previous season's freshmen class and then the injury bug attacked the Lobos with a full-court press.

This past season Sanchez's Lobos had more of a normal bout with injuries and illness, but there was enough depth on the squad to persevere.

The Lobos pulled into the middle of the pack during the Mountain West regular-season race and that was an improvement. The Lobos won 17 games and that was an improvement. New Mexico had a winning season at 17-14 and that was an impressive bump up from the 11-20 campaign of 2011-12.

UNM had a hot run through the Mountain West Tournament in 2012 that was ended by San Diego State in the championship game. This past March the Lobos ran into that Aztec buzz saw in the semifinals and fell 67-37 to the MW regular-season champions.

The margin of that score only serves as additional motivation for the Lobos in the off-season. A bar has been set and the Lobos know they have to jump higher.

Sanchez has a few immediate goals for the off-season. She wants to correct some Lobo flaws that led to a number of Lobo losses in 2012-13.

"We need to get tougher," said Sanchez. "You could see in a couple of games that we were not as tough as the other team. That needs to change. We weren't tough enough and we have to eliminate mistakes especially with turnovers and missed free throws. Our turnovers and free-throw shooting are two things we need to clean up.

"You can't help but look back at the games we lost by one possession. That affects your won-lost record."

For sure, the Lobos lost a few games because of turnovers and free throws - and maybe a lack of orneriness down the stretch run. But this also was a Lobo team with a more complete roster which gave UNM a chance to be more competitive on the court.

The Lobos were one of the better defensive teams in the conference (No. 2 in 3-point defense), but obviously hurt themselves in fundamental ways.

UNM was last in the Mountain in free-throw percentage at .602 percent. They were No. 8 out of nine MW teams in turnover margin at minus 2.16. UNM had more than 100 more turnovers than an up-tempo SDSU team. UNM had 29 turnovers in a loss at SDSU, but had only 13 to the Aztecs in the MW Tournament.

"We have to take care of the ball better," said Sanchez.

Of course, the Lobos have one stat that blows away the other teams in the Mountain. UNM averaged 6,450 fans per home game. Wyoming was a distant second at 3,401.

"That's one of our motivations to get better," said Sanchez. "We might have the best fan base in the nation and they deserve our best effort. Our fans are simply amazing and I hope they understand how much we appreciate them and how important they are to us."

There was more completeness in the UNM roster and also a better sense of completeness on Sanchez's staff. "My staff brought a wealth of knowledge into the program and also brought a sense of camaraderie to this program," said Sanchez. "That helps and they were terrific to work with. They gave the team and me opportunities to win ball games."

The Lobos had a few wins in 2012-13 that stood out. They swept the New Mexico State Aggies by a whopping 47 combined points. UNM beat a solid Texas Tech team in The Pit and came back from a regular-season sweep by UNLV to knock the Rebels out of the MW Tournament in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

The Lobos lost some key seniors from this past season: Chinyere Nnaji, Caroline Durbin, Jourdan Erskine and Jayme Jackson. Erskine provided toughness and leadership inside. Jackson was a versatile athlete on the edge who gave Sanchez depth. Nnaji's playing time went down, but her enthusiasm and leadership was a key this past season. Durbin was the Lobos' leading scorer and Second Team All-Mountain West.

"I can't express how important Caroline has been to our program," said Sanchez. "There was a burden on her shoulders to be a scorer for us and she always accepted that responsibility with courage. Jourdan was a warrior inside for us and gave us a physical presence.

"Jayme played out of position for us for two years, but did everything we asked of her without hesitation. Chin's energy and attitude was so important. We are going to miss all three of them."

Durbin often accepted that scoring responsibility with the opponent's best defender in her face. Durbin was a marked Lobo, but the balance on this year's squad also took some of the pressure off Durbin. The UNM bench averaged about 21 points in 2012-13 and outscored opposing benches by around nine points per game. That Lobo bench outscored UNLV's bench 27-3 in the MW tourney quarterfinals.

The Lobos return a lot of talent including Antiesha Brown, who was named the Mountain West's Sixth Player of the year. Brown had some outstanding games including 26 points at Air Force and 21 points vs. UNLV in the MW tourney.

The Lobos found a consistent scorer inside in junior Deeva Vaughn, who led UNM in scoring in three of UNM's last six games. Vaughn had 23 points in UNM's Pit win over Air Force. The Lobos also return a solid all-around player in Sara Halasz, who had missed two seasons with knee injuries.

The Lobos also had a solid season from freshman point guard Bryce Owens, who led all MW freshmen in assists and steals while finished No. 3 in scoring among MW rookies.

"She had some ups and downs, but she was thrown into the fire as a freshman and did a terrific job for us," said Sanchez.

The Lobos will be adding more talent - and more depth - in 2013-14. Junior Ebony Walker, a 6-foot-3 transfer post from Texas Tech, will give UNM an additional presence inside in scoring, rebounding and defense. The Lobo pups on the way include point guard Brooke Allemand (5-5), wing Alex Lapeyrolerie (5-11), forward Josie Greenwood (6-foot) and post Kianna Keller (6-4).

There is no reason not to expect more Lobo progression.

"I thought we had a successful season when you look at our complete body of work," said Sanchez. "We could have finished a few games better and maybe come up with a few more wins, but we needed to go out and show improvement and we did that.

"Now, it's back to work."