Lobo Women Defeat Northern Arizona 72-64. And it was a lot more than a win.)
After a morning announcement that Tay & Tora Duff would not be playing in the WNIT, there was a lot of wondering how the team would look without them. For much of the past three seasons the pair were the starting backcourt, and a big part of the offensive style of the Lobo team that posted a 61-27 record over that time. That question—and what it portends for the 2023-24 season, is almost as big a part of last night as the game itself.
Some thoughts on both parts, starting with the game.
On paper the two teams looked to be evenly matched, both preferring a fast tempo and scoring in the mid 70s. Even though the absence of the Duffs resulted in a slightly taller starting lineup, the Lumberjacks were still taller. The Lobos overall were a little quicker. At the beginning of the game NAU took a 6-2 lead, but the two UNM seniors—Shai and Amaya Brown—started running and attacking, took 7 of the Lobos 16 shots, and scored 4 pts each. The Lobos shot 50% overall in the first quarter, and led 20-13. Several things were obviously different from previous games. The bench came in more often, as Nia Johnson, Jaylen Bates, and Kath Van Bennekom all got minutes. The second difference was that the Lobos only took three 3-point shots out of 16 field goal attempts in the quarter, instead driving to the basket time after time. 16 of the UNM 20 points came in the paint, and 11 came from the bench. Nia Johnson actually led the Lobos with 5 points in the quarter.
In the second quarter the Lobo shooting cooled off, and the Lumberjacks started rebounding better. Emily Rodabaugh, their 6’ junior post player, played all 10 minutes of the quarter scoring 5 and grabbing 4 rebounds, both leading the team. UNM was called for several fouls in quick succession, mostly offensive, and that coupled with the rebounding edge let NAU get off seven more shots in the quarter. At halftime the teams were even in rebounds and the Lobo lead was down to 32-29.
The third quarter looked very much like the second one to start. Both teams shooting well, the Lobos holding their own on the glass, and both teams going eight deep. The UNM lead stayed near a half dozen until NAU went on a 7-0 run to take a one point lead, 48-47, with three minutes left in the 3rd. UNM answered with an 8-2 run of their own (five by Shai) to regain the lead and end the quarter up five, 55-50. Shai had 7 pts for the quarter to go with 5 rebounds, Amaya added 6 points, and again 8 players got in minutes for each team. The Lobos took a few more three point shots in the 3rd (going 1 for 7), but were still going inside much more often (16 for 26 on two point shots).
In the 4th quarter the Lobos kept running, and the Lumberjacks seemed a step slower. In the first five minutes of that period UNM outscored NAU 11-5, kept slowly widening that to 72-58 lead with 2:10 remaining. NAU scored the last six points to make the final score 72-64 and the Lobos won their 21st game of the season.
Seniors Shai McGruder and Amaya Brown combined to shoot 15 for 21, score 33 points, and grab 18 rebounds. Emily Rodabaugh and Olivia Moran actually bettered that, scoring a combined 34 for Northern Arizona, but the Lobos got more production from their other players to win.
Next Game: Sunday March 19th at Seattle, 6 PM Albuquerque time.
Looking Ahead to the 2023/24 season.
First: Tempo. Besides the game itself there was a lot of curiosity how this might give some clues to what can be expected for next season. We have already seen that when Aniyah would run the point to give Tora a rest, the speed of the team picked up, but so did some of the errors and turnovers. NAU did not pressure on defense, so how a backcourt of Aniyah, Jaylen, Nia, and Viane will manage turnovers—but at least for last night the tempo was fast from start to end.
Second: The first shot option.
In 2020/21, 46% of Lobos shots were from three-point range.
In 2021/22, 44%, in 2022/23
In 2022/23, 41%
In last night’s game, 22%
Yes, it is only one game, but from the first touch it was clear that the plan was to use speed to attack the basket over and over.
Third: Offensive rebounding. For the season, the Lobos have averaged a little over 10 offensive rebounds per game. Last night was essentially the same, grabbing 10. But there was a different look to offensive rebounding this game. For most the season only Aniyah & Amaya frequently attacked the offensive glass for rebounds, with Shai doing so selectively. One issue was these are also arguably the team’s best defenders—so if they were going after offensive rebounds they left a vulnerability if they did not grab it.
Again only one game, but again it just looked different to me. At different times I noted at least seven Lobos going after those offensive rebounds, even though not all seven got one. Couple that with the aggressiveness of Nia Johnson and Mackenzie Curtis and this is another area where the returning players’ strengths may well lead to a different look in 2023/24.