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Miami-New Mexico Preview

March 20, 2003

From the Associated Press

GAME: No. 11 Miami (18-12) vs. No. 6 New Mexico (22-8).
REGIONAL: Midwest, first round.
TIME: Saturday, 11:45 p.m. EST.
SITE: The Pit; Albuquerque, N.M.

New Mexico couldn’t ask for a better scenario.

With their school hosting the first four rounds of the NCAA tournament, the Lobos will try for their first tournament win in school history when they take on Miami.

The Lobos might be 0-2 in NCAA tournament play, but they have been building toward something, as evidenced by five straight trips to the postseason under coach Don Flanagan.

So now with the prospect of playing at ‘The Pit’ for the next few weeks a very real possibility, the Lobos say their time is now.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt we have an advantage playing in The Pit,” Flanagan said Wednesday. “We have maybe as good a crowd as anybody. This is a special event to them.”

New Mexico has been a rapidly improving program. The Lobos played before an average of more than 11,000 fans this season, fourth nationally behind Tennessee, Connecticut and Texas Tech.

Interest in the team and the Lobos’ success started when Flanagan arrived eight years ago. He has transformed the program from one of the worst in the country to a team making its third trip to the NCAA tournament in five years.

New Mexico lost 96 games in the four seasons before Flanagan arrived. The Lobos have five 20-win seasons since he arrived.

Picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference preseason poll, the Lobos finished the regular season 9-5 and in second place. New Mexico, which has won nine of its last 10 overall, beat Brigham Young 52-46 on Saturday to earn its first MWC tournament title and first conference championship since 1998.

Jordan Adam and Chelsea Grear lead the Lobos offensively, averaging 15.4 and 10.5 points per game, respectively.

Defensively, the Lobos have allowed the opposition to shoot just 35.2 percent from the floor and score 54.5 points per game.

One of seven Big East teams to make the field of 64, Miami sewed up its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998 and fifth overall with a win over Rutgers in the Big East tournament. The Hurricanes went on to lose to eventual champion Villanova 65-59 in the semifinals, but as far as coach Ferne Labati was concerned, her players had earned their trip out West.

“Our kids played really well at the end of the season,” Labati said. “We played a lot of great games at the end of the year and that showed our kids deserved to be in.”

The Hurricanes wouldn’t be where they are without the play of Tamara James. The 5-foot-9 freshman, who led the Big East in scoring with 21.0 points per game, earned a spot on the Big East All-Tournament team after averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds.

James recorded her seventh double-double of the season in the loss to Villanova, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

New Mexico and Miami have never met.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Miami – F Shaquana Wilkins, F James, G Melissa Knight, G Yalonda McCormick, G Meghan Saake. New Mexico – F Grear, F Lindsey Arndt, C Adams, G Mandi Moore, G Cristal Garcia.

TEAM LEADERS: Miami – James, 20.9 ppg and 8.0 rpg; McCormick, 6.0 apg. New Mexico – Adams, 15.4 ppg; Grear, 6.6 rpg; Moore, 6.6 apg.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Miami – At-large bid, Big East. New Mexico – Automatic bid, Mountain West Conference champion.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Miami – 2-4, 4 years. New Mexico – 0-2, 2 years.