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Final Four trip powered by Pit

Women's basketball team to play Hawaii Saturday

The state of New Mexico is buzzing with excitement over the postseason success of the two UNM basketball programs in the National Invitation Tournament.

The women have won three straight games to advance to the WNIT Final Four while the men advanced to the quarterfinals before bowing out to the University of Memphis 81-63 Thursday night in Memphis, Tenn.

Members of the women's team say they hope more fans will turn out for their game against the University of Hawaii Saturday night at 7 p.m. at The Pit to decide one of the two participants for the NIT championship.

It will be the teams' first meeting since the 1998-99 season, when the Lobos were part of the Western Athletic Conference.

Women's head coach Don Flanagan said he hopes some of the men's program's fans will cheer for his team, which has been averaging 5,955 fans in the tournament.

"I think the whole community is interested in us doing well and the men doing well," head coach Don Flanagan said. "Our fans have been terrific, and, hopefully, we get some crossover fans Saturday. I expect a huge turnout."

UNM and Hawaii have taken different paths to their meeting. The Lobos have blown out their three opponents (University of Houston, University of Arizona, University of Alabama at Birmingham) by double digits, Hawaii has had two very tough games.

After blowing out the University of Santa Clara, the Wahine had to go into overtime to defeat Brigham Young University, then pulled out a victory over Oklahoma State University 52-51 on the islands Wednesday.

Hawaii finished second in the WAC and lost in the championship game of its conference tournament. The team is led by All-WAC first-team selection Crystal Lee, who averages 16 points per game - 15.6 in the NIT. Dianora Puida follows with 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

The Wahine led the conference in fewest points allowed at 59.1 points per game and scored 70 points a game.

The Lobos, on the other hand, have been led by a trio of performers.

Senior forward Miranda Sanchez is scoring 16.3 points per game in the tournament, sophomore center Jordan Adams is scoring at a 17.3 points-per-game clip and junior guard Molly McKinnon is scoring 11. All three averages are up from their regular season marks.

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The most surprising Lobo in the NIT has been sophomore forward Chelsea Grear, who has averaged 12.6 points during the tournament, up from 5.5 during the regular season.

Senior point guard Nikki Heckroth said the big crowds intimidate teams that come into The Pit. She said the fans at the last two games have been the loudest she's ever heard.

"I think teams come in thinking they know what The Pit is like, but they are surprised at the atmosphere, and it takes a toll on them after a while," Heckroth said.

Flanagan is 4-1 against Hawaii and 1-1 at home.

The game can be heard on the radio at 610 AM KNML, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

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