ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Jade Loville hasn’t been the player she expected to be in the early season. Since transferring to Arizona, she’s averaged double figures, but it hasn’t been at the level she was used to.
“One thing about Jade, and I’ve said this before, is that she works really hard and she works on her game,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. “So they were going to fall. So even though there were a couple of games where she was cold, because of her work and her consistency—and she doesn’t stop working when she’s not playing good—it was just a matter of time.”
Going to familiar territory was the fix for the early struggles as the fifth-year senior went off for 27 points against New Mexico at the Pit to help the Wildcats defeat the Lobos 77-60 in front of 6,087 fans. After spending three years at Boise State, which faced UNM as part of the Mountain West Conference, it was a place she was used to.
“I think nothing really changes coming into games,” Loville said. “Just staying relaxed, knowing that my teammates are gonna find me, my coaches are gonna put me in positions to score. And just knowing that all of the work that I’ve put in, it’s gonna show up eventually. And I think just having that calm mind being on this floor a few times before, it has helped. Definitely, this is a fun environment to play in.”
Loville was especially lethal from outside. She hit six of seven shots from beyond the arc and went 10-for-13 overall.
It hasn’t always been her game. At Boise State, she never shot better than 24.4 percent from three. That changed last year at Arizona State.
“That summer, transferring from Boise State to Arizona State, I definitely wanted to expand my game to the three-point line,” Loville said. “And I knew as a guard, I needed that unpredictability of being able to shoot beyond the arc. So there was a lot of work that I put in over the summer. [Former ASU coach] Charli Turner Thorne helped me a lot with my three while I was at Arizona State, and I think just staying consistent in the gym, getting a lot of reps and building my confidence back up, helped me to expand my game.”
It wasn’t a surprise to New Mexico head coach Mike Bradbury that Loville exploded. It just wasn’t the plan.
“I will say defensively that was the one thing that is disappointing,” Bradbury said. “I won’t give you all the game plan, but the game plan was to not let her shoot threes, for her specifically, and obviously we did a poor job. Now, she got a couple of those off the turnovers in transition. So that is what it is, but the ones in the half simply cannot happen... There were a couple people that we weren’t guarding, and we did a great job helping off them.”
Bradbury didn’t name those players, but it’s likely that one of them was Arizona’s other fifth-year guard, Shaina Pellington. Pellington made the Lobos pay for that as she returned to the court after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury. She had 19 points, two assists, two steals, and a block.
Helena Pueyo had her second strong game in a row for Arizona. While she only scored six points, she had nine assists, six steals, and three blocks.
Before the game, Pueyo met with New Mexico’s Paula Reus on the court. The two natives of Palma de Mallorca, Spain hugged and talked for several minutes. Then, it was all business. Reus led the Lobos with 14 points. She also had two assists, four rebounds, and a block.
It was a close game through the first half. As they have against other opponents in several games this year, Arizona allowed UNM to cut to the basket. The Lobos scored easily and the Wildcats led by just six at the half.
In a game that unfolded much like last year’s matchup in McKale, Arizona turned it up in the second half. The Wildcats clamped down on defense, eventually forcing 26 turnovers that they turned into 36 points. The game ended in the exact same score as last year’s clash in Tucson.
“The problem with the turnovers today is we have 26 and I bet 15 or 20 were pick sixes,” Bradbury said. “If you can throw them out of bounds, we did a great job guarding them five-on-five.”
The Lobos were especially tough on the Arizona bigs in the first half. They doubled up on Cate Reese and Esmery Martinez whenever they got the ball inside. Martinez ended with eight points and eight rebounds while Reese had eight points and six rebounds, but many of the points and the boards came in the second half after Loville loosened up the defense by hitting outside shots.