FEATURE PHOTO: Lobo coach Paul Weir (squatting) and his team didn’t have much to celebrate on Friday night in LA. Saint Mary’s whipped the Lobos 85-60. UNM has lost its last two games by a combined 60 points. (Courtesy/LoboPhotoStore.com)
By Reuben Valles
For Enchantment Sports
LOS ANGELES — There were no pre-game problems this time.
But there were plenty of problems after the tip-off.
For the second straight game outside of the Pit, the New Mexico Lobo men’s basketball team was hammered, this time 85-60 by St. Mary’s.
The game was one of three held on Friday night at the Los Angeles Staples Center in the Hall of Fame Classic. It is not a tournament, and the Lobos’ next game is home against Colorado on Tuesday (Dec. 12).
On Tuesday, the Lobos got into a pregame skirmish at New Mexico State, then were blown out 100-65. UNM’s Corey Manigualt, who landed a punch on one of the Aggies during the Tuesday scuffle, was benched for the game against St. Mary’s.
The Gaels (6-4) raced out to a 14-4 lead — the third straight game the Lobos fell behind by double-digits in the opening minutes. UNM trailed 11-0 at both Bradley and NMSU, but came back to win the former 85-75 on Dec. 1.
On Friday, the Lobos (4-3) were once again outrebounded (38-27). They also missed 20 of their first 22 attempts from 3-point range. They hit two straight in the final minutes, but still finished a mind-boggling 4-of-26 (15.4 percent) from behind the are arc.
New Mexico started the game like it left off in Las Cruces. But after getting behind by 17 in the first half, they cut it to 43-29 at the break.
UNM couldn’t get senior Anthony Mathis free, and without open looks he finished the half 0-for-5 and was scoreless with one assist. The inside big men of St Mary’s kept the Lobo guards from penetrating with any regularity.
Another trait brought forward to this game from The Pan Am Center was the inability of the Lobo full-court press to stop easy transition buckets by penetrating guards. They seemed to enter the paint and make layups at will. The other eerie stat that reared its ugly head in the first half on Friday, was the ghost of rebounds past. The Lobos were outrebounded 21 to 10 in the half and shot just 39 percent compared to St Mary’s hitting 54 percent.
Switching sides of the court had no effect on the Gaels. They scored the first 15 points of the second half with the Lobos shooting airballs and boxing out poorly, while the Gales had a number of high-flying dunks.
New Mexico’s second-half drought ended at the 16:19 mark with a Vlad Pinchuk free throw. Soon after, however, the Lobos were being doubled 60-30.
Another 30-point blowout early in the second half was not what the doctor ordered for this New Mexico team. The Lobos trailed by as many as 40 points on Tuesday.
Between the Lobos’ horrendous shooting, the dribble-drives by the St. Mary’s guards and the inside game by the efficient Gaels, it was clear Saint Mary’s was the better team. The Gales shot 64 percent (32-of-52) — layups and banks off the glass from 2-feet will have that kind effect on your shooting percentage.
Lobo coach Paul Weir was clearly frustrated and feeling the heat of a season seeming to be getting away from this team. All of this was in front of the coaching staff of the fifth-ranked Nevada Wolf Pack who sat courtside as the Lobos were thoroughly dismantled waiting for their late game against Arizona State.
Try as I might, as the clocked ticked down on a game that was a carbon copy of the Tuesday night evisceration in Las Cruces, it was difficult to find any positives.
The full-court press is super fun when it works, but when the guys on the other bench are unaffected by the press, you have no steals, no easy transition points yourself, no dunks, and layup after layup with piercing dribble drives all night long, it can be downright painful.
The Lobos shot just 35 percent for the game, hitting 23-of-66.
One minor bright spot would be the 13 offensive rebounds for the Lobos — but they had plenty of opportunities, considering the 4-of-26 shooting from long range.
Hustle stats for the New Mexico included five steals and one blocked shot, and they turned the Gaels over 15 times.
Weir’s men committed 10 turnovers and allowed two steals by St. Mary’s.
Jordan Ford led St. Mary’s with 28 points, making 10 of 15 shots. After the game, Weir said the Lobos tried to make a game plan for Ford, but they were unable to contain him.
Weir added that the Lobos are still trying to find out who their best defensive player is, and they have yet to find a player who they can count on to lock up penetrating guards like Ford.
Up next New Mexico returns home to face a very good Colorado Buffaloes team (6-1) in the Pit on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Dr. Reuben Valles is a Cibola High and University of New Mexico graduate who practices medicine in Los Angeles and is a contributor to Enchantment Sports. To reach Reuben, email EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.
Mark Smith, Enchantment Sports editor in chief, contributed to this story. Contact him at Dr. Reuben Valles is a Cibola High and University of New Mexico graduate who practices medicine in Los Angeles and is a contributor to Enchantment Sports. To reach Reuben, email EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.