9:00 PM ET, February 22, 2006
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- New Mexico guard Abbie Letz' defense used to make coach Don Flanagan grimace. Nowadays it brings a smile.Letz scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Wednesday night as the Lobos (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) routed Air Force 79-53. Letz hit 7 of 12 shots and six of her rebounds were on the offensive end, but it was her defense that Flanagan hit on first in summarizing the Lobos' 34th straight Mountain West Conference win in The Pit."Abbie played really well," Flanagan said. "She was really active. She defended inside, she defended outside and got rebounds. She was definitely our best player."New Mexico (19-7, 9-4 MWC) has not lost at home since Jan. 6, 2002. Air Force (12-13, 3-12 MWC) has lost 10 of its last 12 games.Early on in her career with the Lobos, Letz' defense was an issue. The Lobos knew she could score and rebound -- Letz having averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds a game her senior year at El Paso Hanks High School. But her defense needed work."She couldn't guard anybody," Flanagan said earlier this season.Letz laughs now when asked about her defense back then and both she and Flanagan agree it's taken a lot of hours in the weight room and in practice to make a solid defender."She's much better conditioned and she's become our best low-post defender," said Flanagan. "She knows angles. She keeps the ball in front of her and contests shots."Letz, who also had four steals against the Falcons, said the work she has done with the team's conditioning coach, Aaron Day, has paid off."That and experience," said Letz.New Mexico, coming off a 59-52 loss at Wyoming, put away the Falcons early on a record-setting night for sophomore forward Dionne Marsh."It was a tough loss against Wyoming and they took it out on us," said Air Force coach Ardie McInelly. "They (Lobos) played extremely hard and got themselves to the free throw line 33 times."Marsh scored 14 points and set school records for most free throws made in a season (142) and attempts (196). She hit 8 of 11 free throws against Air Force. Her 142 made free throws this season broke the previous record of 136 by Abby Garchek."The attempts are nice, but my thing is making more of them," Marsh said.Air Force was led by guard Letricia Castillo with 15 points.New Mexico hit its first six shots, three of them 3-pointers, then used a 12-0 run to take a 34-13 lead with 6:04 left in the first half. Marsh scored eight of the 12, seven of them in a row.The Lobos led 43-24 at the half and stayed safely in front with their 3-pointer shooters. Katie Montgomery hit four 3s and Letz had two and overall the Lobos hit 8-of-12. Back-to-back 3s by Montgomery pushed New Mexico's lead to 66-38 with 10:26 left.Air Force had 15 offensive rebounds and the Lobos 18, and New Mexico had an overall 44-27 edge on the boards.
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