The time for New Mexico to grow up is right now.
With just five games left in the season, head coach Yvonne Sanchez said she is going to trim playing time for some players until they can prove they deserve it.
This season has been completely different then last year with the absence of Antiesha Brown, a player who Sanchez described as the glue of the team.
“I know I have a lot of young players and I have to go to them,” Sanchez said. “They have to learn and get better, and that’s what we’re here for. They will learn and they will get better.”
The Lobos had to play a large portion of the season without hustle player Alexa Chavez, a regular starter on last year's squad. She suffered a foot injury prior to the start of the season and tweaked it again as conference got under way.
Sanchez said Chavez has provided a boost not only to the core leadership of the team, but in her knowledge and hustle on the court.
Chavez will be one of the players picking up more playing time while the head coach sits underperformers.
“Those are the ones playing with the most confidence and that’s what I like about it,” Sanchez said. "The ones that I plan on playing the most are the ones playing with the most confidence.”
Sanchez said seven or eight players will receive the majority of the playing time because they are the ones who aren’t playing timid basketball.
As far as the starting five goes, Sanchez will keep going with what she has been setting up, starting seniors Bryce Owens at guard and Khadijah Shumpert at forward to lead the remainder of the underclassmen who now consist of freshman center Jaisa Nunn alongside sophomore guards Cherise Beynon and Jayda Bovero.
“I’ve tried to shuffle everything I could and it hasn’t been the ideal starting five,” Sanchez said. “I just have to find groups that go in there and play well together during that period of time or that particular game and then go with those people.”
Though not the optimal starting group, Sanchez said the need to get going before entering the conference tournament is at hand.
New Mexico (12-11, 5-7 MW) still has plenty to play for in the regular season as the group tries to squeeze into the top five in the conference standings. The Lobos currently reside in seventh place with just five games left to play.
Even if UNM remains among the bottom six teams in conference, Sanchez said it will be just another obstacle to overcome.
“There’s a chance we’re going to have to play that first game,” Sanchez said. “If we do, so what? You get an extra game and go win four.”
However, Sanchez said she conveyed to her team the importance of starting the first of the final five games off on the right foot.
“We’re planning on going up there and we want to win a basketball game,” Sanchez said, regarding the trip to Boise State. “I told them they’d send a message if they started with this first of five games to go up there and beat Boise at Boise.”
Liam Cary-Eaves is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He covers volleyball, women’s basketball and baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Liam_CE.