The University of New Mexico women’s basketball team picked up quite a bit of gear on Sunday, but not the trophy the Lobos really want.
UNM took a strong share of all-conference spoils from Mountain West, earning three first-team selections, one honorable mention, and one spot each on the all-defensive and all-freshman teams. The second-placed Lobos got more first-team picks than any of the league’s other 10 programs.
But New Mexico only had a short practice Sunday as the Mountain West tournament got underway at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. UNM earned a first-round bye and will face No. 7 San Diego State in the quarterfinals at 7:00 p.m. MT Monday.
For the Lobos, this is where the trophy hunt really begins.
“We’ve been working towards this all year,” said super senior Antonia Anderson. “That was one of the reasons I came back this season – to have a chance to win the Mountain West tournament.”
Anderson was among the Lobos who grabbed the individual gear on Sunday. She along with super senior Jaedyn De La Cerda and senior Shaiquel McGruder were All-Mountain West first team selections, a 10-man unit compiled by a vote of league coaches.
Senior LaTora Duff received honorable mention for the all-conference team, while McGruder was named to the all-defensive team and UNM’s Paula Reus earned a spot on the freshman team.
“I’m happy for all of them, they’ve earned it,” said UNM’s Mike Bradbury, who like all MWC coaches was not allowed to vote for his own players. “We were probably lucky to have three in the first team, but our five starters all had good years. Not being able to vote for our players probably made it easier for me.
The UNLV regular-season champion had two first-team selections, including MW Player of the Year Desi-Rae Young.
Air Force’s Chris Gobrecht was named Coach of the Year after leading the fifth-seeded Falcons to their first title-winning season since becoming a Division I program in 1996.
Cierra Winters of the Falcons has been named Defensive Player of the Year.
Some expected Fresno State’s Haley Cavinder, the league’s leading scorer and who ranked second in rebounds and assists, to repeat as player of the year. However, his team’s eighth place finish probably prevented that.
Bradbury declined to make his votes public, but said the team’s results still impact his decisions.
“In my opinion, the best player on the best team always receives high consideration and should generally win,” he said. “It’s just a question of whether you think ‘player of the year’ means the most outstanding individual player or whether it means MVP of an outstanding team.”
Picking an MVP for UNM this season would be tough after all five starters averaged double-digit points in the regular season. Now the Lobos are hoping their multiple options and experience will pay off in Las Vegas.
Asked about the collective mindset needed to win a conference tournament, Anderson didn’t hesitate.
“I think it’s two things,” she said. “You need that one game at a time mentality because anyone can beat you in the tournament. (No. 7 seed) Wyoming winning it last year was a signal to But you also have to stay really focused on the execution and what you’re doing as a team for three straight days.
UNM should be confident in Monday’s quarterfinal against a San Diego State team they beat twice in the regular season. The Aztecs earned a third shot by beating No. 10 Boise State 65-56 in Sunday’s first round.
The Lobos’ punch proved too much for the Aztecs in the first two clashes, but SDSU’s stellar guard Sophia Ramos and a talented starting cast are enough to make Bradbury nervous.
So goes the story. UNM entered the 2019 conference tournament as the No. 2 seed and lost to the seventh-seeded Aztecs in overtime in the quarterfinals.
Anderson has not forgotten.
“For Jaedyn and me, playing at San Diego State is personal,” she said. “They kicked us out of the tournament and it was a bad feeling. Not to take them lightly.