When Don Flanagan took over the reigns as UNM women’s basketball head coach, he took over a program in ruins.
In the four seasons before Flanagan’s arrival, the Lobos had a combined 14 wins and 96 losses.
Since Flanagan’s arrival in 1995, he has slowly made the program respectable.
In six seasons at UNM, he has compiled a 122-63 record with four straight post-season appearances, including this year’s second-place finish in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Flanagan guided the Lobos to a 22-13 overall mark this season and featured one of the toughest schedules the UNM women’s program has ever played.
The Lobos played six games against ranked opponents this year but went winless in those games.
In four of the six games, UNM had a chance to either take or preserve a lead, but was unable to finish on top.Flanagan said the tough schedule helped his team down the stretch.
“Our schedule was very difficult, but great,” Flanagan said. “This type of schedule prepares the kids for the tournament and only makes us better in the long run.”
This season might best be described as one of missed opportunity. A few less mistakes and a few more made shots might have made the difference between a trip to the NCAA Tournament and the WNIT.
What if against seventh-ranked Louisiana State University, the Tigers did not go on a 13-0 run in the final five minutes of the game to beat the Lobos 54-49 in the Pit.?
What if against 14th-ranked Mississippi State University, UNM would have pulled down a key defensive rebound instead of allowing the Bulldogs to crash the offensive glass?
What if a national audience could have seen UNM Center Jordan Adams’ hook shot drop in the final seconds to earn the Lobos a victory over 25th-ranked Utah instead of a 76-73 Ute victory?
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Those are just a few of the “What ifs?” the Lobos can look back upon.
From start to finish, UNM seemed to gain confidence and build a cohesive unit.
“We started playing together and communicating to each other,” Flanagan said.
“Once we started playing together we became a much better basketball team.”
The Lobos had a rollercoaster ride in the turnover department, though.
The Lobos looked sharp at times with highlight-reel passes, only to turn around and pass the ball to the guy with the popcorn in the second row. The team’s inability to handle the ball and break a team’s defensive pressure hurt them a number of times throughout the season. A prime example would be in the championship game of the WNIT, where the Lobos committed 19 turnovers.
“We really did not take care of the ball this year,” Flanagan said. “There were times when we had too much indecision on the court and we pressed, which caused bad passes.”
As the Lobos improved as a team as the season wore on, key players stepped up their games.
Sophomore center Jordan Adams continued her dominance inside for the Lobos, averaging more than 14 points a game.
“Jordan is really becoming an excellent player; she can post up, shoot the three and hit the short jumper,” Flanagan said. “I believe she is one of the best players in the country when she sets her mind to it.”
Sophomore Chelsea Grear, while not a great outside shooter, was able to slash to the basket and her unwavering attitude provided the Lobos with a needed spark.
Grear really came on in the WNIT, averaging 9.6 rebounds per game, including a career high 15 in the championship game.
With starters Molly McKinnon, Adams and Grear; reserve guards Cristal Garcia and Jasmine Ewing; and forwards Susan Bocock, Melissa Forest and Lauren McLeod returning, the Lobos should fare well next year.
With the departure of seniors Nikki Heckroth, Miranda Sanchez and Jennifer Williams, the Lobos will have to replace the team leader in Heckroth and Sanchez’s 3-pointers.
Despite Flanagan’s success at UNM, he has received heat from the local media and his own boss, athletic director Rudy Davalos.
In February, Davalos told The Albuquerque Tribune he wanted to see better recruits from Flanagan and his coaching staff.
Perhaps the group of players Flanagan has coming in will make the media and Davalos happy.
Flanagan has signed two guards and two forwards to play next season for the Lobos.
Kirbi Wilson, a 5-foot, 10-inch tall forward who averaged 11.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year and Albuquerque Sandia High School star Lindsey Arndt, a 6-foot, 1-inch tall forward have also signed. Arndt is ranked the 75th best prospect in America by the U.S. Grass Roots Report.
One of the guards, Mandi Moore, who averaged 9.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last year, could be a potential floor leader for the Lobos next season.
The other guard, Kirby Killingsworth, from Longview, Texas, is one of the most talked about players in some time. Killingsworth’s shooting has received much praise, and she averaged 21.3 points per game last year in high school.
“Watch out for her, she has a pure shot and she can flat out light it up,” Flanagan said. “She might be one of the best players in the region.”
With what may be one of Flanagan’s best recruiting classes to play alongside the established players, fan interest already seems to be brewing for next season.
Flanagan said he does not want to make any predictions about his team, but he enjoys what he has seen so far.
By competing in next year’s preseason WNIT, the Lobos will continue from where they left off.
“I like our chances of doing something next year,” Flanagan said. “We’ll be in the WNIT right from the beginning.”