Lo­bos un­fazed by get­ting to play in dome

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY KEN SICKENGER JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

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.

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