By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Oh yeah, there’s still that other team in Nevada, too.
And it looked pretty solid on Tuesday night.
You couldn’t call it a letdown, and the New Mexico Lobo men’s basketball team certainly didn’t look to come out overconfident after its shocker against Nevada.
It was just a matter of getting outplayed in the second half by a better team with better perimeter game, resulting in wake-up call – yet again – for the Lobos. And for the fifth time this season, UNM dropped a home game – this time 80-69 to UNLV at Dreamstyle Arena — The Pit.
Did the Lobos look tired down the stretch after their scintillating and emotional 85-58 home shocker of then sixth-ranked Nevada on Saturday?
Maybe a bit.
But UNLV also was coming off a Saturday home win against Wyoming and had to hit the road for the 9 p.m. (Mountain) game.
The Lobos came out plenty ready and plenty hot, and looked poised to give the Pit fans another big win on their way to first place in the Mountain West. But the lack of a true point guard reared its ugly head in the second half, and proved to be the difference.
SOME QUICK TAKES
BRAGGING POINTS: Lobo big-man Carlton Bragg started having that breakout game many have been waiting for, and led UNM to a 42-35 halftime lead.
Bragg showed why he is a former McDonald’s All-American and took over in the final minutes of the first half. He had all of his team’s point in one 8-0 run – all on powerful and slick moves inside.
But Bragg, who was 3-for-3 from the floor and added a pair of three throws during his burst – had a layup to start the second half to give UNM a 44-35 lead, and that was about it.
Bragg didn’t exactly disappear after that. He was easy to spot, because he was bricking a few shots – a couple ill-advised from long range – and had a key turnover during the Rebels’ comeback.
He did have one more hoop – scoring on a great spin move to give UNM a 59-57 lead midway through the second half – but finished 5 of 10 for 12 points with seven rebounds. UNLV went on a 7-0 run after Bragg’s last basket and never trailed again in a game that featured 17 lead changes.
GUARDS AND BOARDS: The Lobos again got beat on the boards (34-29) by a Rebel team that matched its size and intensity, and simply went stronger to the rim. But the biggest difference was the guard play of Amauri Hardy, Noah Robotham and Kris Clyburn, who got to the paint at will against the Lobos’ 2-3 zone and either scored or dished to open teammates inside.
UNM lacks a true point guard. Senior Anthony Mathis – who plays the point but is realistically a shooting guard – had 27 points against Nevada on Saturday in being named Mountain West player of the week. But on Tuesday, he was 3-of-14 and just wasn’t quick enough to stay with the Vegas outside guns. He was 2-of-10 on 3s for nine points. He had four assists but five turnovers.
Lobo freshman guard Drue Drinnon did have a couple of nice hoops in the first half and finished with four points in seven minutes, but again didn’t look ready for this level of play and needs plenty of seasoning.
Clyburn had a career-high 25 points to go with nine boards, while Hardy had 12 points – including eight in the first four minutes of the second half – and three assists. Robotham had 14 points and a game-high eight assists.
The Lobos had just nine assists as a team.
ZONED OUT: The Lobos 2-3 zone, which worked so well against Nevada, didn’t have success against UNLV. The Rebels got in the lane and to the hoop too easily, and showed why it is one of the best rebounding teams in the country by crashing the boards. UNLV also used its fast break much of the night to get in the front court quickly, trying to keep UNM from setting its zone.
BIG POTENTIAL: The Lobo big men are so talented offensively – and there are so many of them. But too many times, after Bragg, Vance Jackson, Cory Manigault and Makuach Maluach get on a bit of a run, they force shots in hopes of keeping the hot hand.
Guards Mathis and Dan Kuiper have a tendency to do the same.
All of them contributed to the Lobos’ woeful 6-of-25 shooting from the floor in the second half.
Jackson had a team-high 14 points, but was 4-of-9 and Maluach was 3-of-8 for 12 points. Manigault had a nice game, going 4-of-6 fro 13 points, five rebounds and three steals.
HEY BOSS: Lobo coach Paul Weir was an assistant for UNLV coach Marvin Menzies for nine seasons at New Mexico State before Menzies took the gig with the Rebels. Weir was named NMSU coach after Menzies’ departure and took over at UNM last season.
Menzies is rebuilding the once national-champion program, and is doing a nice job with a very young team. The Rebels are the only team 3-0 in the league – the first time they have started as such in the Mountain West.
UNLV is 9-6 overall while UNM is 8-7 overall and 2-1 in the league.
REALITY CHECK: It might of felt like it, but Saturday’s shocker against Nevada didn’t give the Lobos the MW title.
And it might feel like it, but Tuesday’s loss didn’t lose the crown.
Bottom line is, Nevada is still the best team in the league and will most likely run to the regular season championship. But the Lobos should definitely be a contender, and should continue to improve.
It’s still a learning process for a group of transfers trying to get on the same page.
But that lack of a big-time, lane-driving point guard looks to be an Achilles’ heel for the Lobos all season.
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.