Stevens: Lobo Women's Basketball 2012-13 Season Preview
Oct. 22, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Women's Basketball - 2012-13 Season Preview
First Exhibition: Tuesday (Oct. 20), 7 p.m., Vs. Northern New Mexico - The Pit
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez has bodies. Talented bodies. Quick bodies. Dedicated bodies. Lots of Lobo bodies.
"This is nice. This is easier," said Sanchez, entering her second season as the University of New Mexico head coach. "I can have a full cherry and silver scrimmage now. We have the chance to look for different combinations we feel comfortable with.
"Last year we had to call timeouts to rest kids. Now, I have subs. Now, we can keep going."
In 2012-13, the Lobos plan to keep going. In a dramatic contrast from the Band-Aid-and-a-prayer season of 2011-12, Sanchez has depth and she plans to use that depth to form a quick-striking Lobo team that actually might wear teams down.
Heck, in a practice session this week in the Rudy Davalos Center, Sanchez had to move to the side of the court to allow her 15 Lobos space for a running drill. Last season, Sanchez was almost forced to partake in drills
Sanchez actually went to the UNM student body and the Lobo volleyball team in order to fill some holes in 2011-12.
Halasz went down with a knee in in the 2011 Lobo Howl. Johnson made it into November before an ACL tear in UNM's second game turned her freshman season into a redshirt season.
Those injuries were compounded by the loss of five freshmen from the previous season. Sanchez also lost playing minutes from Deeva Vaughn (concussion), Chinyere Nnaji (shoulder), Jourdan Erskine (knee) and Lauren Taylor (knee/neck).
But that was last year. The season of broken-and-bruised Lobos has morphed into a season in which Sanchez has options and choices to be made.
"We don't know who is going to start or who will play where," said Erskine, a 6-foot forward. "We have 15 girls this year and we're ready to rock. I think we have a different level of hope this year. We don't have half the team in the training room. We have a new energy.
"We go out and work hard and push each other and try to make each other better. I think all the numbers motivate us."
Yeah, last year in order to make it onto the court all you really needed was a pulse and two good legs. The two good legs was optional.
There were literally times last year when Sanchez looked at her bench, did a double take, and then rather than sending in a sub, called a timeout in order to rest the players on the court.
It was tough. The Lobos finished 11-20, rallying at the season's end to reach the championship game of the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.
A lot of UNM's success was due to heart, smart basketball and a firm grasp of fundamentals. Those things should return in 2012-13 - plus all those Lobo bodies.
"Coach Sanchez emphasizes how you have to go out there with a will to win and play with heart and guts," said Caroline Durbin, UNM's leading scorer a season back at 15.0 a game. "If we can combine that with more depth and more talent, we should come up with more wins this year."
Yeah, that's the plan. Win more games. Be in more games. Sanchez sees no reason that shouldn't happen.
Durbin and Halsaz give Sanchez two proven scorers - scorers who know how to come through with gut baskets in clutch situations. Halasz averaged 10.2 points and 4.9 boards as a sophomore. That was in 2009-10. She missed the past two seasons with knee injuries.
Durbin was asked to pick up the scoring load last year and came through big time. She was First Team All-Mountain West and the program's first-ever Capital One First Team Academic All-American. Durbin, the only returning player who scored in double figures last season, will have more help on the scoreboard this year.
A key player - and position - for UNM in 2012-13 is 5-foot-4 Bryce Owens at the point. But first she has to win that spot. She might be the front runner as the only Lobo player on the roster, who naturally falls into that position. Durbin and Jayme Jackson, two off-guards, helped the graduated Nikki Nelson out front a year ago.
Owens gives UNM quickness up front and scoring potential. Owens, a McDonald's High School All-American nominee from DeSoto High (Texas), is a jet. She can create. She can score.
"Bryce is really good," said Sanchez. "She is a natural point guard and she has a good shot. We expect her to define that position for us this year. Jayme Jackson can play there, too. Jayme will do anything you ask her to and she is an outstanding defender."
If Owens can quickly adapt to D-I hoops, Jackson looks like the backup going into the season. Durbin can play the point, but is more a scorer from that position than a creator. The key here probably is Owens.
If the Lobos can improve their scoring at the point, that makes for a nice combination with Halasz and Durbin on the wings.
This Halasz-Durbin combo could prove to be one of the top 1-2 scoring punches in the Mountain West. Both Lobos can score off the dribble and finish at the glass. Durbin might have the best looking jump shot in the league.
The Lobos are loaded on the edge. Antiesha Brown, a 5-10 Clovis product and a transfer from Texas Tech, becomes eligible at the semester change and 5-10 Brea Mitchell is another promising freshman. However, it might be a tough task to steal playing time from Halasz or Durbin.
"The freshmen are doing a nice job of putting their games together to get on the court," said Sanchez. "Brea Mitchell can flat out shoot the ball and there's always room for shooters. We have a solid foundation of shooters out front."
THE FORWARDS/BIG WINGS
The Lobos also are loaded with talented bodies in the wing/forward spots behind three 6-foot returners: Erskine, Chinyere Nnaji and Vaughn.
Erskine is a player who plays with heart and intensity. Nnaji and Vaughn rely more on athleticism. There is a nice combination of skills in this trio. Vaughn was a JC All-American and averaged 20 points and 10 boards two years ago at Oklahoma College. Erksine is UNM's top returning rebounder with a 6.1 average.
Sanchez also adds three freshmen to those spots: 6-foot Khadijah Shumpert, 6-foot Alexa Chavez and 6-2 Jordyn Peacock, who also can play a guard spot. Sanchez has good experience laced with freshmen enthusiasm.
"Khadijah is showing a lot of skill and heart in practice," said Sanchez. "She had great length for defense and she's going to play. Every practice she is solid. She runs the floor well and she can score in a lot of different ways."
The Lobos don't have an established go-to post player and aren't huge inside, so that might be a position that succeeds by committee and with help from the wings. There is no proven scorer at this position and UNM goes 6-foot-2 across the paint. The 6-foot-5 Emily Stark did not return to the team.
The 6-2 Johnson was showing promise inside before her injury last year, but she basically returns as a D-I rookie. Sanchez also has 6-2 Maddie Muraida returning and adds 6-2 Ebony Walker, another Texas Tech transfer, who is petitioning the NCAA for eligibility this season.
"We don't know her status yet," said Sanchez of Walker. "She might have to redshirt and we'll go with that until we hear otherwise (from the NCAA). We need some people to step up inside."
Depending on the type of lineup Sanchez throws out, Erskine and Nnaji also can play the post, but they stand only 6-foot.
A year ago, the Lobos had to control the tempo in order to hang in games and not wear down or drift into foul trouble because of an up-tempo game. This year the Lobos plan to fly a bit.
"We have enough numbers where we can go up and down the court," said Sanchez. "We want to get after it on defense and that's full court and half court.
"Our first option will be to run the break and see what's there. I want a quick-strike offense as long as it's a smart offense and we aren't just jacking stuff up. I want to take good shots. We will take good shots."
Said Erskine: "I think we might push the ball a little bit more this year. If we can bring the heart we had last year to this year's team, we're going to be great."
The Lobos might have a few questions in the paint, but appear to have enough athletic bodies to hang on the boards. For Sanchez, "the unknown is blending the young and the old together. A good team has chemistry," she said. "We need that and we're working on that."
Said Durbin: "We have so many players who can come off the bench and make a difference. We have a lot of quickness and I think we can press with this team and I know we can run and gun. But we also have the type of players to set up and play that type of ball, too.
The Lobos open the 2012-13 season with an exhibition game on Tuesday, Oct. 20 in The Pit vs. Northern New Mexico. The regular season opener is Nov. 9 vs. Northern Arizona in The Pit. The Lobos open Mountain West play Jan. 9 at UNLV. The Mountain West Tournament is March 12-16 in Las Vegas, Nevada.