Stevens: Sanchez's Lobos Look To Boil Lumberjacks In The Pit

Nov. 8, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Women's Basketball - In The Pit - Vs. Northern Arizona

When/Where: 7 p.m., Friday - University Arena - The Pit
On The Air: 610-AM KNML Game Story, Stats, Photo Gallery, GameTracker

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The head chef is ready and the Lobo soup is about to stir up The Pit. Finally, it's for real.

"It's like a big cup of soup," said New Mexico's head coach/chef, Yvonne Sanchez, of her 2012-13 cooking pot of Lobos. "All the ingredients are there. They just have to cook a little bit longer with each other.

"At some point, it's going to be a good cup of soup."

The Lobos looked pretty good boiling down a couple of exhibition pushovers and get the chance to go 1-0 for reals when the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks invade The Pit at 7 p.m., Friday.

"Now, the season starts," said senior Jourdan Erskine.

Said Caroline Durbin: "There will be a little more nerves than normal. The stakes are a little higher, but I think we'll respond to that."

Said Sara Halasz, who sat out the past two seasons with knee injuries: "I've been waiting for the day."

In a way, Coach Sanchez has been waiting for this day, too. She had to battle through a depleted lineup in 2011-12 and took some hard lumps. This year she has a full roster of talented and athletic Lobos.

She goes into her second season with her inside game as a major question mark, but there are a lot of things she can do with this team. There is some pressure on the chef, too. She has to mix and blend the right spices.

"I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do and we have a lot of numbers to work with," said Sanchez. "We have a lot of kids who are gelling together. We have more depth. We are excited about Northern Arizona and to get The Pit crowd.

"Our length and our athleticism is a big-time strength. We are more athletic than we've been in a while. I think defensively we can really get after it."

The 2012-13 Lobos are looking to make a big push from the 2011-12 team that went 11-20. The Lumberjacks should be a good test. They return three starters, 10 letter winners, four seniors and a star player, who combine to bring 20 seasons of experience to first-year NAU coach Sue Darling.

"She has some tools there. They are athletic. Patton is kind of their key," said Sanchez referring to NAU's 5-foot-10 Amy Patton. The former Big Sky Freshman of The Year is looking to become a four-time All-Big Sky pick in her senior run.

Patton averaged 14.6 points last year and was the only Lumberjack in double figures. She also led the team in rebounding with a 6.5 average.

Sanchez wouldn't disclose who will get the defensive call to guard Patton, but mentioned Caroline Durbin, Deeva Vaughn and Bryce Owens as possibilities.

"Caroline is one of them but I don't want to put her on the best player all the time," said Sanchez. "You can put Bryce Owens on almost any perimeter player and she'll cause havoc. Our perimeter players can guard just about any perimeter player."

The Lobos' perimeter star is Dubin, an All-Mountain First Team pick in 2011-12. She averaged 15.0 points per game last year and can score inside and out. Halasz gives UNM a solid one-two punch on the edge and Owens is a promising freshman point guard.

Sanchez has said that team chemistry, rebounding, and production from the point are three keys to the season.

"In high school, the responsibility (to run the team) wasn't on me," said Owens, "It is kind of nerve-racking, but I have to push through it and be there for my team." If you saw Owens in UNM's two exhibition wins, there probably isn't much to worry about. She is quick and poised.

The Lobos' biggest question mark might be inside where UNM's tallest player is 6-foot-2. However, Sanchez does have an abundance of talent at the forward/wing spots and most of those Lobos can play inside. This year, they'll need to do some rebounding, too.

The Lumberjacks are a lot like the Lobos. They are not intimidating inside, but do have a solid post in 6-2 Aubrey Davis, who had 33 blocks, shot 52 percent, and averaged 5.3 boards and 6.7 points last season. The 6-foot Shay May averaged 5.4 boards and returning starter Tyler Stephens-Jenkins averaged 6.7 points and 3.4 boards.

"They have some shooters," said Durbin.

NAU returns three of its top five scorers: Patton, Davis and Amanda Frost, who averaged 8.6 points off the bench a year back. Frost was fourth in the Big Sky with a .350 3-point percentage, but she averaged fewer than two long shots per game.

NAU returns a lot of experience, but was not given much respect in the Big Sky preseason poll where the Lumberjacks were picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams. They were picked ahead of Weber State, a team the Lobos play on Nov. 27 in The Pit.

The Lumberjacks were 9-10 (1-14 on the road) last year and missed the Big Sky Tournament for the third consecutive season. They like to run with their guards with Davis and May handling the inside work.

"I think they like to get up and down the floor," Sanchez said of the Lumberjacks. "I'm fully expecting them to get a transition game going."

Which is exactly UNM's cup of soup.