Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

UNLV presents tough task for the Lobo women

UNM senior LaTacyya Duff, here looking for a shot in on Oct. 29 exhibition game against West Texas A&M, goes into Saturday’s game at UNLV with a chance to reach 200 made 3-pointers during her UNM career.
Chancey Bush/Journal

Slot machines won’t be part of the equation, but the UNM Lobos are hoping for a big payout Saturday in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s certainly a big opportunity.

New Mexico’s women’s basketball team (10-7, 2-2 Mountain West) will take on first-place UNLV (15-2, 5-0) in a showdown that will be televised nationally on FS1. A win would pull the Lobos to within a game of the Lady Rebels, and shake things up considerably in the conference standings.

But UNLV this season has exemplified the old Las Vegas mantra, “The house always wins.” The Lady Rebels are 10-0 at home with eight of those wins coming in cozy Cox Pavilion, where Saturday night’s contest is set to be played.

Road breakthroughs have thus been far rare among this season’s MWC contenders, with UNLV’s 76-70 win at San Diego State the only notable exception. The Lobos would like nothing better than to steal a key road win under a national spotlight.

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Take LaTascya Duff’s mindset, for example. The UNM senior needs just one made 3-pointer to become the third UNM player to reach 200 for her career. Asked if she’d like to reach the milestone against UNLV, Duff smiled.

“If it happens, it happens,” she said. “I just want to win the game. Hopefully we can do both.”

Lobos coach Mike Bradbury believes his team will need to make its fair share of 3-pointers – along with 2-pointers and free throws – if it’s to knock off UNLV.

“(The Rebels) are so good offensively, we’ve got to score well to give ourselves a chance,” Bradbury said. “You’re not going to just shut them down, so we have to execute on offense, get good shots and shoot a decent percentage.”

UNM and UNLV played two nail-biters last season, with both games tied going to the final seconds. UNM’s LaTora Duff buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left to give her team a 71-68 win in Albuquerque.

The rematch featured a bizarre ending after Desi-Rae Young scored on a putback to give UNLV an 81-79 lead with 30 seconds remaining. Young was called for a technical foul after shoving Duff, but Rebels coach Lindy La Rocque convinced game officials to review the call, which was then changed to a double technical on Young and Duff.

Another technical foul was later called on Bradbury after he was not awarded a timeout on UNM’s final possession. The Rebels hit four straight foul shots with a second left to win 85-79.

Could Saturday night’s contest deliver more drama?

It likely depends on the visiting Lobos, who underwent more key personnel changes in the offseason and have not been as consistent as the Rebels in 2022-23.

“UNLV has pretty much the same team as last season,” Bradbury said. “They’re experienced, they have great guards and they’ve got the (MWC) player of the year (Young) inside. They’re a handful.”

An intriguing side plot to Saturday’s game will be the individual matchup between Young and UNM’s Shaiquel McGruder, two of the conference’s top players, both of whom rank among the league’s top five in numerous statistical categories. Bradbury said the 6-foot McGruder – who scored 44 points in two games against UNLV last season – will draw the defensive assignment against the 6-1 Young.

The Lobos also figure to be focused on slowing down Rebels point guard Essence Booker, who torched them for 31 points in Las Vegas last season.

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