Paula Reus doesn’t mind being the sixth wheel on the University of New Mexico women’s basketball express.
It’s not a bad performance after all.
In a team with five senior starters, all of whom have averaged more than 11 points per game, Reus has managed to fly somewhat under the radar through the first 20 games of her freshman season. The 6-foot-1 freshman from Spain has used the time to acclimate in more ways than one.
Most clearly, Reus is comfortable on the pitch. In the early games of this season, she seemed nervous at times and struggled to get the same open shots that were almost automatic to her during practice. In her first nine collegiate games, Reus averaged less than four points per game.
Fast forward to Mountain West play and Reus becomes a force for the red-hot Lobos (16-4, 7-0 Mountain West), who hosts San Jose State Monday for a 5:30 p.m. game. Since breaking out with a 15 point game against nationally ranked Arizona, Reus has been a constant contributor on both sides of the floor for UNM.
In conference play, she averages 10 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and those numbers are rising rapidly. She set a season high with 17 points on January 15 at Colorado State, then defeated it by 19 points in Saturday’s 80-74 home win over Fresno State.
Lobos coach Mike Bradbury is not surprised. In fact, he had long expected Reus to make this kind of impact.
“This is what Paula can do every night,” he said after Saturday’s win. “It’s really like we have six starters. Her minutes are usually equal to (starting posts Antonia Anderson and Shaiquel McGruder) and we love having her there in any situation. ”
Reus was all smiles after the game, making his first full media conference appearance this season.
“Today feels great,” she said. “I’m getting more confident and confident in my shots. At the beginning of the season I was quite nervous, but now I’m kind of a sixth person and I feel more comfortable. It always feels good to win.”
Reus has become an instant hit with UNM fans and brings a lot of flair when she enters a game. She hits a solid 34% from a 3-point range, but is equally adept at driving to the basket, where she can finish with either hand. Reus is also third on the team with 39 assists, including some dazzling passes to prime her teammates for easy scores.
“She’s the best passer-by on the team,” said Bradbury.
Reus’ rise was instrumental in the Lobos’ eight-game winning streak, and she plays a key role as UNM competes for a second straight regular-season Mountain West title. She’s also in a better position to enjoy it.
Having never set foot in the United States before August, Reus was understandably self-conscious during her initial media interviews. She often apologized for her then little-used English.
When asked about her response to Saturday’s raucous Pit fans, Reus felt comfortable spouting out a few recently learned phrases.
“It was great,” she said of the rowdy home crowd. “It was like an endless hype. We all felt the hype.”
Reus grinned when asked about the term and praised her teammates for adding her English vocabulary. “All of them,” she said, “everyone says hype.”
NOTE: Game tips from Monday at 5.30 pm. It’s ‘Family Night’, students up to and including group eight have free entrance.
Ladies: San Jose State on UNM, 5:30 PM, 610 AM/95.9 FM, themw.com.