The Lobos opened their 2020-21 season in an unusual venue, on the road at Division 2 Midwestern State. It was the first look at a significantly different looking Lobo team returning only five players who saw major minutes last season, and who for the first time in Mike Bradburry’s tenure at UNM have no experienced post presence to key the offense around.
The Lobos opened up a big lead early, and cold Mustang shooting made it worse throughout the first ten minutes. While UNM was shooting 45% on first quarter field goals (5 for 11) and 50% on threes, MWS was help without any field goals for the quarter. The score was 25-6 Lobos at that point, and the game was never in doubt after that. The final score was 93-65 and that was representative of the game as a whole.
The game was a major step forward for UNM because it finally gave this season’s roster a chance to play against someone other than themselves. It was the first real quiz to see how new point guard LaTora Duff synched with the shooters. It was the first look at what the offence (and defense) will be without a Jaisa or Jordan to demand a lot of attention from the opponents.
The reality is it was hard to tell a lot from this game. The refs seemed to be calling COVID fouls: if the defender was within six feet of an opponent they blew the whistle. Counting one technical there were 59 fouls called. I am not sure they could run the length of the court three times without a foul. It was not pretty basketball, and by the forth quarter both teams and the “crowd” estimated at 50 or so clearly had been drained of normal basketball intensity.
Ahlise led UNM with 18 points, mostly on 5 three point baskets. Four other Lobos reached double figures: both Duff twins, AT, and Jayden. The five of them 77 of the Lobo points, all on outside shots or drives from the outside. I cannot recall a single offensive set that was built around a traditional low post feed.
Seven players had between 3 and 5 rebounds, and for most the game at least one guard went to the defensive glass to help the two “post” defenders. Overall UNM was outrebounded by the taller Mustangs 39-35, though the Lobos had an edge on offensive rebounds 13-10.
Although there were a lot of questions that could only be answered “still unknown” at the end of the game, there were some things that can be said.
First the positives. As mentioned above, the team played unselfish offensive basketball. The ball moved side to side, and decent shots were often passed up for a teammate with a better look. Six players took five or more shots, and the Lobos had 18 assists (would have been more if they didn’t hit some cold shooting stretches).
Another positive was the play of three of the freshmen, LaTascya & LaTora Duff and the newest player from the Netherlands, Kath van Beenekom. Kath did not have the big numbers the Duffs had, but she is a bigger guard who played hard in 19 minutes, drew a lot of fouls, and fought for rebounds.
But there were negatives too, or in coach-speak, areas to work on. Finding some offensive threat down low will be a challenge. Azaria showed some flashes, but in eight minutes is is a small sample size. She did get four rebounds including one nice offensive one in traffic, and had an impressive fake & drive past her defender for a basket. But she rarely if ever set up low. But then no one did, and I expect we will see a lot of five-out offense this year, much as Navy played when they came to the Pit a few years back.
Another concern was the tempo. They did run, but sometimes I had to remind myself they were really running. This is not Asia Robinson running, or Cherise running, or Bryce Owens running. Maybe the speed will get there as the team gets used to each other and some more game time, but for now it is running with a lower speed limit. But they did run reasonably effectively, and in a choppy game, they only had 13 turnovers.
A second concern is height, or lack there of. It was evident on defense, for when MWS could make a decent pass into the post (far from a given) the Lobo defenders were often at a major disadvantage. No, there is no Nike on this roster—at least not one who has made her presence known yet. It also caused a number of those turnovers the Lobos did have, as passes had a small window when they were thrown over the taller defenders. And to be honest, against a quicker team the TO count would have been higher.
So a mixed bag. I’ll take a 28 point win and that will make me smile. But there were enough areas that clearly need improvement so it will be a subdued smile for now.