The CSU women’s basketball team will be facing five uniformed New Mexico Lobos at a time Thursday night in Albuquerque. There might be another 17,000 there in street clothes.
The Rams will put their perfect conference record on the line when they face the Lobos in UNM’s home arena, The Pit.
To emerge 6-0 in conference, CSU (16-3 overall, 5-0 Mountain West Conference) will have to win at The Pit, one of the most hostile home environments in the MWC and an arena where the Rams haven’t won since 1998.
“The biggest challenge is to communicate,” CSU assistant coach Nikki Collen said. “As a coaching staff, you can’t always signal in plays with a crowd that loud. It’s up to the players to know what’s going on.”
Aside from the crowd, UNM will also have a strong inside game on its side. The Lobos’ (15-5. 4-2) post is keyed by 6-foot-3 junior center Jordan Adams, who stands at No. 5 in MWC scoring with 15.1 points a game.
CSU junior center Shannon Strecker, recently recovered from a shoulder injury, will have the task of handling Adams. Fellow junior center Lisa Narkiewicz likely won’t be available to the Rams as she battles a sprained ankle, leaving the Rams without their usual post tandem.
“My number one concern is making sure (Adams) doesn’t take over the game,” Strecker said. “I’ve been going full speed in practice the last couple of days. (The shoulder) should still be a little sore, but I can’t worry about that.”
Collen said the team is confident Strecker will be up to the task.
“She’s the better defensive player (of our two posts),” Collen said of Strecker. “We lose a little bit of offense with Lisa because she’s effective on the perimeter as well as the low block. Joy Jenkins has given us solid minutes as a backup post, so we’re not worried about it.”
While the Lobos are big inside, the Rams’ offense has become more complete. Once considered a team that solely relies on perimeter shooting, CSU has seen strengths develop inside as well as out.
“We’re not forcing three’s when they’re not there, and we’re finding we can just as easily drive to the hoop,” junior forward Jackie Campbell said. “Our game is finally becoming all-around, we’re not just relying on the three. We need to get our posts more involved.”
The Rams will need a good all-around game to defeat the Lobos in the 42nd meeting between the teams. CSU holds an all-time advantage of 24-17, with the last victory coming in the semi-finals of last year’s MWC Tournament, 70-65.
The Rams will travel from Albuquerque to Colorado Springs to play the Air Force Falcons on Saturday. The Falcons (4-14, 0-5) have struggled all season, but can cause headaches on any given night.
“They took Utah to nine points in the Mountain West tournament last year,” Assistant Coach Carter Shaw said. “That’s what they can do. Night in and night out, they can’t, but they’re capable.”
Air Force was a Division II program until six years ago and hasn’t seen much success since the switch. Leading the Falcons is sophomore forward Amoy Jackson, who averages 11 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
“They play in an unorthodox manner,” Shaw said. “Their speed’s different, they have a different talent level and that creates problems.”
History says the Rams should emerge victorious. CSU hasn’t dropped a decision to Air Force since 1990. n