Many teams view conference play as marking the start of a new season—which could be a good thing since the Lobos will likely want to put their subpar start behind them.
New Mexico (7-5) has been underwhelming so far this season during non-conference
The Lobos have played well at times this season, but an injury to a key player and some streaky performances seem to have the team still searching for some answers.
Head coach Craig Neal said the slate is wiped clean and the men on the team are ready to hit the floor Wednesday after the holiday break. He said they’ve had some good practices and the players are ready and energized.
The Lobo bench reacts as a three point shot is made during their game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at WisePies Arena.
“It’s the start of season number two—clean slate 0-0 going into the 28th,” he said. “Anytime you can compete for a regular season championship, it’s always something to look forward to.”
The Lobos enter Wednesday’s game coming off an ugly loss in their non-conference finale, in which Arizona (11-2) pummeled UNM 77-46.
But Fresno State is also coming off a loss, falling 75-63 on the road to Oregon. The Bulldogs are playing .500 away from home, which could tilt the scales in favor of the Lobos.
UNM has yet to lose on its home floor, sporting a perfect 6-0 record on the season. The team has won at home by an average margin of 15, which was aided by an 83-43 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the most recent home game.
The Lobos were undefeated at home against the Bulldogs in series history before dropping last year’s decision, 92-82, a release said. New Mexico leads the all-time series 14-9 and is 9-1 at home.
Senior forward Tim Williams, who was shelved for a couple of games earlier in the year after a concussion, should be fully healthy and ready to lead the team into conference battle. His 18.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game are both team-highs.
Junior guard Elijah Brown has also been a scoring threat, averaging 16.1 per contest. But Williams and Brown are the only Lobos posting double-digit averages and could use some help from other players stepping up on a consistent basis.
Fresno State, however, has been a model of consistency with nearly five players scoring 10 or more per game. Senior forward Paul Watson leads the team with 13.6 points and Cullen Russo, another senior forward, rounds out the top five in scoring at 9.8 per game.
Three-point shooting might be one of the areas of concern for New Mexico. It has allowed opponents to shoot nearly 40 percent from
Fresno State isn’t a great long-range shooting team, but it has made eight or more three-pointers in four games so far this season. Junior guard Jahmel Taylor is one of the best in the country from beyond the arc, knocking down 53 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Neal said his team has been working on a lot of things, but in addition to defending the three, he said transition defense could be another key to the game.
“Our transition defense hasn’t been very good…we have to get better,” the head coach said. “If you look at how people are scoring on us, the number one reason is transition scores.”
Neal said he thought the Lobos played a tough non-conference schedule and hopes they have made the necessary tweaks to benefit the team. He said the team needs to find a third and fourth scorer to help compliment Williams and Brown.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at WisePies Arena aka The Pit and broadcast on ESPN3 and 770 KKOB AM radio.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.