Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Lobos look to challenge Rebels after tough loss in Vegas

Lobo Shaiquel McGruder, left, fights for a loose ball with Colorado State’s Hannah Ronsiek on Jan. 26. McGruder and her UNM teammates face Mountain West-leading UNLV on Thursday at the Pit.
(Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Not everything that happens in Vegas remains there.

The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, for example, would be only too happy to forget all about its January visit to Las Vegas, Nevada. Coach Mike Bradbury won’t allow it.

Mountain West Conference-leading UNLV put a first-class thumping on the Lobos on Jan. 14, rolling to a 79-63 win in a nationally televised game that arguably featured one of UNM’s worst performances this season.

“Domination from start to finish,” Bradbury said. “I don’t know how much you can even take away from that game. UNLV just had its way.”

The Lobos (13-9, 5-4) get another shot at the Lady Rebels (20-2, 10-0) at the Pit on Thursday, and payback is not a main focus. Putting together a better performance in front of the home fans is objective no. 1.

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“Right now, that’s our mindset,” fifth-year senior Shaiquel McGruder said. “We’re working hard in practice, encouraging each other and trying to be the best team we can be. We weren’t even close to our best last time we played (the Rebels). We have to be better.”

McGruder, UNM’s leading scorer, suffered through a dismal night in Vegas, failing to score or grab a rebound in 25 minutes. She didn’t struggle alone as Paula Reus (10 points) was the only Lobos starter to approach her season scoring average. Amaya Brown and twins LaTascya and LaTora Duff combined for 15 points.

UNM has since bounced back and is riding a three-game winning streak that included a 98-60 romp at Utah State on Saturday.

UNLV has been even hotter. As of Wednesday, the Rebels’ 11-game win streak was sixth-longest among Division I women’s teams.

“They haven’t changed anything since the last time we saw them,” Bradbury said. “Why would they? They’re still undefeated in conference. (Desi-Rae) Young and (Essence) Booker are two of the best players in the league and they’ve got five other players who can make you pay if you get too hung up on those two.”

The Lobos are hoping to change things up considerably from their first meeting with UNLV, but more in terms of execution than scheme. The Rebels outrebounded UNM 40-25 in the first meeting, and hitting the boards has been a point of emphasis for the Lobos ever since.

Bradbury and McGruder said the Lobos’ focus also has improved since the loss at UNLV.

“Most definitely,” McGruder said. “We had some practices and games where we lost focus, even for five minutes, and it cost us. The way we’re practicing and working now, if we can do that in every quarter, we’ll be right there with anyone.”

TAKE YOUR PICK: Bradbury avoids frequent changes to his starting lineup and has employed the same five starters (Duff twins, Brown, Reus and McGruder) nearly all season. Viané Cumber has started the last two games in place of Reus, who missed one contest with an ankle injury and came off the bench at Utah State.

Bradbury downplayed the significance of which player starts.

“We rotate those two along with (McGruder) throughout the game,” he said. “Paula and V play similar minutes no matter who starts. In their case, I don’t think it makes a difference.”

PROMOTION: Thursday’s game will celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, with girls ages 12 and under admitted free. Members of UNM women’s athletic teams will be on the pit concourse prior to the game to sign autographs and hold clinics.

CATCHING ON: UNLV women’s basketball hasn’t been a big fan draw over the years, but this season’s team is beginning to attract attention. The Rebels drew 2,500 for Saturday’s win over rival Nevada – the program’s first sellout at Cox Pavilion.

UNLV ranks seventh in the MWC in home attendance (905 per game). UNM (4,905) and Wyoming (2,654) are first and second.

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