Lobos' Reus punching back in expanded defensive role

Feb. 17—It's been a season of hard knocks for Paula Reus.

The University of New Mexico women's basketball team's talented junior forward has already been forced to leave two Mountain West games early — once with a sprained ankle, once after suffering a cut under her right eye.

Reus has had her ups and downs on the court as well. She's scored in double figures 14 times and is averaging 11.1 points per game, but she's also had a few shaky outings where shots weren't dropping and she never seemed to find her rhythm.

But Reus keeps finding ways to punch back.

The Lobos (18-8 overall, 9-4 Mountain West) have transitioned from a high-scoring, 3-point-happy bunch to a defensive-minded unit this season. Sixty is suddenly a magic number for UNM, which is 17-0 when it scores 60 points or more and 12-1 when holding opponents under 60.

So far, the new plan is working. The Lobos enjoyed their final open date of the season Saturday and will go into the final five games of the season tied with Wyoming for second place in a tight MWC race.

"Yeah, it's different," Reus said. "Defense is the big thing this year and we need to stick to our game. Keeping teams under 60 is the goal and when we do it, we have a great chance to win."

At 6-foot-1, Reus is one of the few Lobos tall and physical enough to battle some of the Mountain West's top posts. She can expect two full shifts defending the paint this week when UNM visits Boise State (Wednesday) and Wyoming (Saturday).

"They are big," she said with a smile, "but right now we really want to keep things going. If I need to guard a 5 (center) or a point guard, that's what I'm gonna do."

Reus raised a few eyebrows around the Pit recently when she defended Colorado State's star point guard McKenna Hofschild for much of the Lobos' 62-46 win on Feb. 10. It was a strong outing for Reus, who scored 13 points and made Hofschild work hard to find openings.

"She's a great player and it was actually kind of fun guarding her," Reus said. "I don't like that she had 20 points, but ..."

Lobos coach Mike Bradbury was more than satisfied with Reus' defense on Hofschild, which played into a successful game plan. Hofschild needed 23 shots to reach 20 points, which was still 4.5 points under her average, and no other CSU player scored more than eight in the game.

"We just wanted to throw something different at (Hofschild)," he said, "and Paula did a nice job staying in front of her. Paula's got some versatility in her game and we want to take advantage of that."

Reus does not figure to be chasing guards around the perimeter this week. Boise State has two effective, physical posts in Abby Muse and Elodie Lalotte, while Wyoming's offense is built around dynamic 6-4 center Allyson Fertig.

"We'll need Paula to rebound this week and to be good offensively," Bradbury said. "Boise State and Wyoming have good posts and we need to make them work defensively. I wouldn't say we need anything unusual from Paula, though, we just need her to be the best version of herself."

Reus, who has started all 26 games and has already set a new career high for minutes played this season, said she's looking forward to UNM's challenging final stretch.

"It'll be hard," she said, "but I like the way we're playing now. If we stick to our game plan, focus on the little things and adjust as the game goes on, I think we'll finish strong."

AROUND THE MOUNTAIN WEST: UNM received some help in the standings Saturday when Wyoming dropped a 75-70 decision at Colorado State and Boise State fell at Nevada (68-65 in overtime). The results allowed the idle Lobos to move into a second-place tie with Wyoming (9-4 MWC). Boise State and Nevada (both 8-5) are one game back.