By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Imagine you’re a high-level high school basketball recruit, and a major college basketball coach comes to your home for a visit.
You don’t know much about the coach, the school or the city. But you do know hoop – and how much you love to play it.
So, which pitch would you rather hear:
(A) “If you come to (fill in the university), you will get to play the way you want to play. We run, we gun, we use full-court pressure on defense and we take a ton of shots because we get-up-and-down the floor in a hurry.”
(B) “I know a lot of teams like to run, but if you come to (again, fill in the university), we walk it up the floor to set up the offense. Then we try to use as much of the shot-clock as possible to shorten the game. The fewer shots we take, the fewer our opponent will take.”
Without knowing the exact wording, I would think a Paul Weir pitch would be much like the first choice – and nowhere near the second.
And that’s why the New Mexico Lobo coach has a ton of talent on his 2018-19 roster. Choice “A” is just about the game-style players enjoy in this day and age.
When recruits get to to UNM, they find it’s everything they were told – and then some. Like performing at 5,200 feet.
Thus, the first thing is getting in shape – which means a lot more running that the recruit likely considered.
And just as crucial – if not more – is learning how to play that particular run-and-gun style, and that full-court pressure defense that sounded so cool during the recruiting process.
It takes a heck of a lot of desire, discipline and understanding of the game.
So far this season, the Lobos (4-1) have struggled defensively to get the press clicking. But it’s a learning process, and appears to be getting better each time out.
On Saturday, the Lobos beat Bradley 85-75 in a game they fell behind 11-0. But the press improved as the game continued.
Tonight, it’s Round 2 of the annual two-game clash with New Mexico State (6-1). The Aggies won the first go-around 98-94 last month in the Pit. NMSU dominated nearly the entire second half and led by as much as 19 before frenzied UNM comeback — part due to the pressure all over the floor — gave the Lobos possession down just two points with eight seconds left. The Lobos couldn’t complete the remarkable rally.
But aside from the late comeback, the Aggie guards had previously shredded the Lobos’ defense all evening.
I think the Lobo defense will be much improved in tonight’s meeting with NMSU. It need to be. The Lobos won’t have the advantage of 10,000 fans screaming and intimidating the Aggies and the officials if UNM needs another late surge tonight.
The guess here, is that the Lobos will continue to improve on the press and defense in general, and will look like a different bunch by their next game in the Pit – against Colorado on Dec. 11 – after a trio of games away from home. UNM plays Saint Mary’s on Dec. 7.
Before the three game swing away from the Pit, I asked coach Paul Weir about the difference in getting players to commit to wanting to play a full-court press — and committing to actually do what it takes to play one.
WHAT’S THE POINT?: The Lobos, who were a 7-point underdog at Bradley, are underdogs once again tonight. NMSU is favored by 6.5.
UP THE STREAM: For those who had issues with the pay-for-freeze streaming on Saturday night, you should be able to watch tonight’s game on TV. Supposedly, the choices for the 7 p.m. are: AggieVision, Fox Sports, Arizona Plus, Fox Sports Oklahoma.
I have DirectTV, so I’m scrambling like everyone else. The listing on my satellite says the game is available on 686-2, 675 and 623. I certainly hope I have at least one of those packages, or I’ll be watching ESPN.com’s scoreboard while playing Christmas songs.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in the state’s history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.