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Grear, defense keys to successs

Women's basketball beats Hawaii in semifinal game

The UNM women's basketball team is running roughshod over its competition in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, thanks in large part to stellar defense and the emerging play of sophomore forward Chelsea Grear.

Both pieces were integral in helping the Lobos crush the University of Hawaii 68-43 Saturday night at The Pit in the NIT semifinal match-up.

The defense shackled its fourth team in a row and Grear led a high-energy attack on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court.

The Lobos constantly hounded the Hawaii shooters and held them to a paltry 27 percent shooting from the field - 19 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Hawaii looked flustered on offense much of the night and were held to a season-low 43 points, 27 points below its average.

UNM assistant coach Dave Shoemate said the difference Saturday night was that the Lobos confused the Wahine by changing up the defensive scheme.

"Because they had some big post players, we wanted to give our post players some help, so we double-teamed from the weakside," Shoemate said. "We haven't done that all year long, but in the first half it worked out real well. Hawaii's post players would turn and we were right there. In the second half, the post players stayed out on the perimeter and were not in a position to score."

The double-teaming of the post had Hawaii off-balance all night.

Several times, a Hawaii post player would receive the ball, and because of the quick double-team, throw the ball away or be called for traveling.

Hawaii head coach Vince Goo gave most of the credit for his team's poor offensive performance to the Lobos defense.

It was the fourth-straight game that the UNM defense has held its opponent to double-digit points below its average. The strong play has come against some very strong competition too, as all four teams - University of Houston, University of Arizona, University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Hawaii - UNM has played in the tournament were in the top two in scoring in its respective leagues. Each team averaged more than 70 points but were shut down by the Lobo defense.

"We're just hustling and non-stop moving because that's what defense is about," sophomore center Jordan Adams said. "We are helping each other out on defense if someone gets beat."

During the regular season, UNM held opponents to 60 points and 37 percent shooting. In the WNIT, the Lobos are holding the competition to an average of 52 points and 33 percent shooting.

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The defense has always been led by the scrappy, all-out hustle of Grear, but now she is stepping up her play on offense and giving the team another scoring option.

During the regular season, Grear averaged 5.5 points a game and was shooting 35 percent from the field. She mostly scored on fast-break layups and putbacks off of offensive rebounds. In the WNIT, she has displayed a deadly mid-range jumper to add to her arsenal. Grear is averaging 11 points and shooting 70 percent - a combined 19-of-27 - from the field, including a career-high 18 points against Arizona.

"A lot of it has to do with building up my self-confidence," Grear said. "Another thing is, I have great teammates who have confidence in me that I can score. If my teammates believe in me, then I am going to go out there and prove to the people who are guarding me that, yes, I can shoot."

She gave the team a spark early Saturday by corralling several loose balls and grabbing offensive rebounds to give her teammates extra chances to score. Numerous times the crowd stood and applauded Grear's hustle.

Offensively, she nearly finished with a double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds, five offensive, to go with nine points. She also displayed her usual defensive intensity in helping hold down Hawaii.

"She is playing with a lot of energy right now," Shoemate said. "That energy is real contagious right now and everybody else is buying into it."

Grear has a guard's quickness and can also outjump taller players for rebounds. She has also stepped up her rebounding, pulling down eight per game in the tournament.

It is no coincidence that when the Lobos were struggling in the middle of the season, Grear was struggling with foot and back injuries that limited her playing time. When she came back healthy toward the end of the regular season, the team took off.

The Lobos have now won eight of their last 10 games and are on the verge of winning the WNIT championship.

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