New Mexico’s University Arena (also known as The Pit) hasn’t been the most hospitable place for the CSU women’s basketball team.
The Rams haven’t won in New Mexico since 1998, but this Saturday could change that when they take on the Lobos in Albuquerque at 6 p.m.
While the Rams are coming fresh off two consecutive wins against MW rivals Air Force and UNLV, the Lobos have lost their last four home games.
The teams are currently tied for fifth in the MW standings, each with 5-6 conference records. The Rams last clashed against the Lobos in January, where they lost 68-54.
“We made so many mistakes in that game,” CSU coach Ryun Williams said. “They kicked us on the glass and scored a lot of points because of it.”
The New Mexico loss came in the midst of a three-game losing streak, during a stretch where the Rams went 3-7.
CSU is 4-2 since that skid, but Williams is not about to let his team get comfortable with their recent success.
“It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “We know we are going to get a serious effort out of New Mexico. You can’t think about what we did or what they did, Saturday night is all that matters.”
Lately, the Rams have been focusing on their rebounding skills and their physicality, the lack of which contributed to January’s loss. The Lobos out-rebounded CSU 46 to 24, and 21 of their points came directly off of offensive rebounds.
“Rebounding has been our big focus this month,” junior forward Alicia Nichols said. “We have gained a lot more scoring opportunities as a result.”
Nichols has contributed to the increase in points over the last six games, recording a career-high 14 in Wednesday’s win against UNLV.
“It gives me confidence, knowing where I can score,” Nichols said. “I missed a few that I shouldn’t have, but having those opportunities to score builds my confidence.”
Above all else, the Rams must head into Saturday’s game with confidence. New Mexico’s physical offense, headed by senior guard Caroline Durbin, will take off running unless CSU gets to it first.
“Durbin is their stud,” said Nichols. “We need to go in with some fight and shut her and her team down.”
Though the team is improving both offensively and defensively, culminating in the win against UNLV, Williams knows there are areas he would still like to fix and key on for Saturday night.
“We have to have a greater toughness, we have to complete plays,” he said. “We have been putting ourselves in nice positions to score, but we left a lot of points on the floor on Wednesday night. We have to play with a greater strength when we get close-to-the-rim scoring opportunities.”
A win for the Rams will place them ahead of New Mexico, giving them a 6-6 conference record and allowing them to set their sights on fourth-ranked UNLV, currently 6-6 in Mountain West play.
“Since January, we have come closer as a team,” said Nichols. “Winning 3 of our last 4 helps us know our confidence. We just need to go out there and do our job.”