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First-place showdown: Lobo women host 'motivated' UNLV

Feb. 2—Saturday's Mountain West women's basketball showdown at the Pit is hardly business as usual for the UNM Lobos.

Conference-leading UNLV (18-2, 8-1) visits the Pit with a lot to gain and, almost certainly, a point to make.

The Rebels will be looking to avenge their only MWC loss since 2021 — a 69-66 defeat to New Mexico on their home court Jan. 20. That loss knocked then-No. 25 UNLV out of the national rankings, but they're now unofficially 26th in both polls and would likely climb back into the Top 25 with a win Saturday.

"We'll get a motivated bunch," Lobos coach Mike Bradbury said of the Rebels. "I wouldn't expect anything else."

The stakes are high for UNM as well — perhaps surprisingly high. The Lobos (16-6, 7-2) are riding a five-game winning streak that includes their victory in Las Vegas and are tied with Wyoming for second place in the Mountain West just one game behind UNLV.

It's heady stuff for a New Mexico team picked to finish sixth in the conference this season.

Excuse the Lobos if they're not talking much about it.

"No, we're only at the halfway point in the league," Bradbury said. "There's a lot of basketball yet to be played."

He did relent a bit on the just-another-game mentality.

"Sure, it's big. Win and you're in first place," he said. "I'm sure our players know that but we haven't talked about it and they haven't shown it. They're a very focused group right now."

UNM has found its stride recently but Bradbury expects the Lobos to have their hands full against the talented Rebels. UNM did an effective job controlling the pace and keeping UNLV out of transition in the teams' first meeting and doing it again Saturday will be job one for the Lobos.

"Our only chance is to control the pace and make them play five-on-five," he said. "If they start running in transition, it'll be a long day for us. We did a great job preventing that (in Las Vegas). I'm sure UNLV will be looking to play faster this time."

The Lobos can take some instruction from watching Wednesday's game between UNLV and Wyoming. The Rebels came away with a 58-51 win, but the Cowgirls got the pace they wanted and stayed close throughout at Cox Pavilion.

"Wyoming slows the game down with their offense," Bradbury said. "We can do a little of that with our offense, but it's more important for us to defend and make (the Rebels) work for shots. If we can do that and keep them off the offensive glass, we give ourselves a chance."

Both teams figure to make some adjustments from their Jan. 20 meeting, including some defensive tweaks. UNM figures to throw some new looks at Rebels star post Desi-Rae Young, who racked up 24 points and 17 rebounds against the Lobos. UNLV figures to be hyper aware of UNM's Viané Cumber, who torched them for 22 points and hit a game-winning 3-pointer in round one.

"We've made some adjustments and I'm sure they have, too," Bradbury said. "UNLV's tough to match up against but we'll be ready to play, give it our best shot and see what happens."

BENCH BOOST: Freshman Lara Langermann gave the Lobos a significant lift in Wednesday's 65-54 win at San Jose State. Langermann came off the bench to score a career-best 13 points, hitting 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It was only the third double-digit outing for a UNM bench player this season. Mackenzie Curtis scored 11 points against Hampton, and Paris Lauro had 14 against Western New Mexico. Langermann's previous high was nine points against Pepperdine on Nov. 9.