February 25, 2024 

How New Mexico became a surprise team in the Mountain West this season

Scott Mammoser explains how New Mexico has surprised fans this year and defied predictions of playing just an average season

New Mexico came into this season minus its top three scorers and picked to finish in sixth place in the Mountain West Conference. Yet, the Lobos have hovered around the top of the league’s standings all year and are the only MWC team to take down heavily-favored UNLV. A defensive stop in the final seconds gave UNM a 59-58 win at Wyoming on Saturday to improve to 19-9 and 10-5 in the MWC.

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“We wanted to prove people wrong,” junior guard Aniyah Augmon told The Next. “It’s fun being the underdog because we get to prove ourselves every game. We have done just that and stuck together as a team. We have fun and are eager to play with each other.”

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Vianè Cumber scored 22 in the 69-66 win at No. 23 UNLV on Jan. 20. The junior guard also scored the game-winning three with three seconds left as the Lobos registered their first win over a ranked opponent since topping No. 16 Marquette in November 2017. The Lobos also beat high-profile Colorado State, 62-46, on Feb, 10. UNM limited the Rams to 31 percent shooting and 15 percent from beyond the arc. Augmon recorded 22 points and 16 rebounds (all on the defensive end) in the CSU win.

“I’m really excited about our team and where we are going and what we have accomplished,” eighth-year head coach Mike Bradbury told The Next. “We have three returning players who played any Division I basketball, and it’s been great- a really fun year to coach.”

Breakout years for Wilson and Augmon

Nyah Wilson is experiencing vast improvement since transferring from Syracuse. Photo courtesy of New Mexico Athletics.

Nyah Wilson is one of the brightest surprises in college basketball this year. After scoring 1.6 points per game at Syracuse last season, the 5’8 junior guard from Dallas has improved to 17.7 in conference games with UNM, which are fourth most in the MWC. Her scoring is 14.8 per game throughout all games.

“We have been locked into our overall identity,” Wilson told The Next. “Coach really emphasizes that a lot. I feel like we are sticking to it. We are really a competitive team, so we are locked into the focus of staying together. I think it’s all about confidence and knowing I came to a team that believed in me. Just knowing you have a strong and positive environment that supports you, that makes you want to go harder. They just believe in me to get the job done.”

Wilson added that going forward, she wants to focus on her assists and getting her teammates involved. She doesn’t want to drive to the rim on each possession.

“Nyah Wilson has been a great addition, a really good player,” Bradbury added. “She is a really good person and human being. She can score the ball, is a really good defender, and she has been a big part of this team.”

Wilson also scored 25 in the Lobos’ rematch with UNLV – a 62-56 loss in The Pit. Following her, Augmon ranks sixth in the MWC with 15.3 points per game and Cumber is 11th at 12.3. To add to the balance, junior guard Paula Reus is scoring more than 11 per game, as well.

Augmon also leads the league with more than two steals per game. Plus, her six rebounds and four assists are near the top of the rankings. This versatility rewarded her with two MWC Player of the Week wins in the past month.

“I think I just step into the role that he (Bradbury) thought out for me,” Augmon added. “That instills confidence in me and my abilities, but I also have good teammates around me that encourage me to be a big presence on the team for them.”

In case you are wondering why that name sounds familiar, her cousin Stacey Augmon was on the 1990 UNLV men’s championship team.

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More surprises

Coach Bradbury added that despite being steady offensively, he thinks the team has been inconsistent on the defensive side. Charlotte Kohl is the exception to that. UNM’s top rebounder is another unlikely source. The 6’5 graduate student from Germany grabbed only one rebound per game in very few minutes for Mississippi State, but has now improved to seven.

The Lobos have three games remaining, versus San Diego State, Nevada and Fresno State, before the Mountain West Tournament March 10-13 in Las Vegas. A win would send UNM to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.

“We just need to keep doing what we have been doing,” Bradbury added. “If you look at the scores and even the games we lost, they all went down to the last minute in conference play. We are good enough to beat anybody in the league. We have proven that, and if we keep playing as hard as we have been playing, I like our chances.”

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Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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