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Lobos poised for championship

UNM prepares for Ohio State, fans respond with Pit sellout for NIT title game

The culmination of one of the most successful seasons ever for a UNM women's basketball team comes to an end tonight.

UNM faces Ohio State University at 7 p.m. in a sold out Pit for the WNIT championship.

The Lobos (22-12) have the third-most wins in the program's history and will try to win the University's first-ever national team title in a battle with the Buckeyes (21-11).

Ohio State has posted its most wins in eight years. The Buckeyes are in the Big Ten Conference and finished in eighth place with a 6-10 conference mark. After starting the season 10-0, the Buckeyes are only 11-11 in their last 22 games but have made an impressive run in the NIT.

"They have a great point guard, are quick inside and are well-coached," UNM head coach Don Flanagan said. "They are very versatile offensively and pass the ball from side to side. They are a tough team."

The team has played for much of the season without its best player, forward LaToya Turner, who tore a knee ligament in a game in early January. She was averaging 18 points per game at the time. However, the Buckeyes have found players to fill her shoes, such as senior point guard Jamie Lewis and sophomore forward Courtney Coleman.

The 5-foot-5-inch Lewis is averaging 12.6 points per game and leads the team in assists with an average of 7.8 per game.

"She is a great point guard, but we have faced a lot of point guards, so that will be nothing new," Flanagan said about Lewis. "But she might be the best we have seen."

Coleman, who stands at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, is the team's leading scorer and rebounder with an average of 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. She is also connecting on 58 percent of her shot attempts. Both were second-team all conference in the Big Ten.

OSU averages 72.3 points per game and shoots an impressive 45 percent from the field. The defense of the Buckeyes gives up 62 points a game and also creates 23 turnovers per outing, including nearly 11 steals a game.

"Their quickness is a concern; it is a big problem," Flanagan said. "A big key for us is going to be taking care of the ball and that is one of our main emphases going into the game."

OSU got to the championship game by defeating its four opponents by an average of 7.5 points a game, including a buzzer-beating 61-60 defeat of the University of Cincinnati in the first round. The Buckeyes ousted James Madison University 74-65 in the semifinals.

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Like the Lobos' star players, Ohio State's best players have also stepped up when needed most. Lewis is averaging 18 points and 8 assists during the WNIT and Coleman is scoring 17 points a game. Each came up big in the semifinal win, as Lewis scored 20 points and had a school and WNIT record 17 assists. Coleman scored 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field.

Flanagan said he has been especially impressed with the play of Coleman.

"She is very physical and very quick," Flanagan said. "She has a quick jumper, which she shoots well, and is quick on the boards. She is going to be difficult to defend."

Sophomore guard Chelsea Grear said the team's defensive philosophy will be similar to the schemes it used against the University of Hawaii in the semifinal victory. In that game, the Lobos double-teamed the post every time the ball went inside.

The main objective for the Lobos, Flanagan said, is to keep playing the way they have been playing during the tournament.

"We have been playing well against some good teams," he said. "We have to continue to rebound well, make them work for everything and have all five players defend as a team. On offense, we have been shooting a good percentage, reversing the ball and getting second chances, so we must continue those things."

UNM has crushed its four tournament opponents by an average of 21 points. The Lobos have done it with a well-balanced offensive game and a dominating, stifling defense. The defense is giving up just 52 points a game and allowing opponents 33 percent shooting.

The UNM offense is scoring 73 points and shooting 48 percent from the field. Sophomore center Jordan Adams is scoring 17.2 points per game, senior forward Miranda Sanchez adds 13.8 points, Grear contributes 11.8 points and junior guard Molly McKinnon is averaging 11.2 points per game.

Grear said she expects the team will play well and not come out nervous.

"It is a great feeling being in the championship game," Grear said. "I expect all of us are going to give it our all and leave it all out on the floor. This is the last game, so no one better have anything left to give."

The biggest advantage the Lobos will have is a rocking crowd at The Pit. UNM is 16-4 at home this season, while the Buckeyes are 6-5 away from home. The largest crowd OSU has witnessed this season is 8,000.

The game can be heard on the radio at 610-KNML AM beginning at 6 p.m.

UNM Media Relations Director Greg Remington said since the bulk of the tickets for tonight's game were purchased online and will have to be picked up at the Pit's ticket office, fans may want to consider picking up their tickets early to avoid a logjam at the doors prior to the game.

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