Lobos unfazed by getting to play in dome
FLAGSTAFF — The UNM women’s basketball team has been thriving at home, but how will the Lobos fare in a dome?
That question will be answered today when New Mexico (6-1) visits Flagstaff’s Walkup Skydome for a matinee game against Northern Arizona (4-3).
The surroundings will be different for the Lobos, who have played six of their first seven games at home. UNM did scratch out an 89-84 double-overtime win at Houston on Nov. 24, but that game was not played in the Astrodome.
Still, there were no special preparations this week for New Mexico’s first dome game in recent memory. In fact, Lobo coach Mike Bradbury and his players did not know NAU had a dome until after Thursday’s practice.
“A dome? Really?” senior Nike McClure asked. “Well, that will be a new environment. Cool.”
The element of surprise is understandable. Today’s game will be the Lumberjacks’ first at the Walkup Skydome this season. NAU uses the facility for football and basketball but typically does not schedule the latter in the building until football season concludes. Northern Arizona’s men’s basketball team has played just one home game this season and the school’s women have played two — all in the cozy Rolle Activity Center. Both NAU teams play dome-openers today. The Lumberjacks men host Utah Valley at 6 p.m., four hours after the UNMNAU women’s game tips off.
Bradbury is confident his team will be ready for today’s encounter. The Lobos have studied plenty of NAU game video, even if none of it was recorded at the Walkup Skydome.
“I did not know we were playing in a dome,” Bradbury said, “but I don’t think it really matters where we play. I do know Northern Arizona has been really good at home and this is a home game for them. I expect to have our hands full.”
The ’Jacks have certainly been potent at home. They average 66.6 points per game overall but racked up 88.5 points per contest in home wins over Fresno State and California Baptist.
NAU has been known to light it up from 3-point range, but slowing senior forward Kaleigh Paplow will be job one for UNM. Paplow averages a team-best 17 points per game and does most of her best work attacking the basket.
“She is a bear,” Bradbury said. “She’s usually the best player in the gym, and they can surround her with four or five quality shooters.”
McClure agreed and said UNM’s defenders have to stay focused on the perimeter.
“They’re a talented group,” she said of the ’Jacks, “and they’re fast. They’ll come out of the gate firing, so we have to get back on defense and limit their 3s. But we’re going to play fast, too. That’s our game.”
UNM was held to a season-low output in Wednesday’s 69-51 win over UTEP, but much of that was due to a frigid start. The Lobos went 4-for-16 from the field in the first quarter (0-for-10 from 3-point range) and scored just 10 points.
“Our offense was OK the last three quarters,” Bradbury said, “but we missed a ton of layups in that game. I know 3s are going to come and go, but we have to focus and finish around the basket. If we do that and play good consistent defense we’ll be fine no matter where we play.”
NOTE: Sophomore Madi Washington could miss a second straight game after she was hit in the eye area during Wednesday’s shoot-around. Washington did not practice Thursday and wore sunglasses during most of the session. Her status for today is questionable, Bradbury said, but she’s probable for next week’s game at New Mexico State.