Injuries are part of the game, and the New Mexico basketball team has been hit with the injury bug on several occasions this season — but none bigger than the news that broke Tuesday.
Head coach Craig Neal said the Lobos will be without senior forward Tim Williams for the foreseeable future, due to a foot injury sidelining the second-leading scorer on the team.
“It’s with my great regret that I have to announce that Tim Williams is going to miss a substantial amount of time,” Neal said in a release. “We don’t know how long he will be out, but he has a stress reaction in his left foot.”
Neal said the important thing was the overall health of his star forward, as they work to get him healthy.
The news came just days after it was announced the sophomore Dane Kuiper was in the concussion protocol after he sustained a broken nose in the previous game against Nevada.
Kuiper will likely be out of action for a week as he waits to get medically cleared. There might also be another challenge, as he will probably have to get used to playing with a protective mask when he returns.
There is never a good time for an injury, but the pair of injuries arguably couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The Lobos were already without junior guard Xavier Adams, who went down with an ACL tear earlier in the season against Utah State. He seemed to be the burst of energy the team relied on, and it is something the team may have not yet replaced.
Trying to define this year’s Lobo team has been like hitting a moving target. Sometimes it looks like a top-25 team that plays with energy and passion, moving the ball well to create open shots and at other times...it just doesn’t.
New Mexico had fought back from a three-game losing streak to post four straight wins and have a shot to overtake first place in the Mountain West on Saturday.
But the 82-65 loss to Nevada put a halt to some of the expectations and, with the loss of Williams, the chances at winning the regular season title are slim.
The Lobos have leaned heavily on junior guard Elijah Brown, the team’s leading scorer at 18.5 points per game, but haven’t gotten anyone else to step on consistently to help him and Williams.
The Lobos have had success feeding the ball into the post and letting Williams go to work, but they will have to find a new strategy.
Brown will probably look to shoulder more of the load, but he won’t be able to do it on his own. It will be a big challenge for the talented guard to find a balance that allows him to shoot, while also getting his teammates involved so the offense doesn’t bog down.
Neal said the team has eight regular season games left to play and the players must approach them one game at a time.
He said they are playing for seeding among other things, but most importantly for pride. The head coach said he felt the Mountain West has a lot of good basketball teams, but the reality is the conference is probably a one-team league.
So, for New Mexico to make the NCAA Tournament, it will have to survive the weekend in the Mountain West Championship to earn an automatic bid.
The Lobos aren’t going to get back Adams, but hopefully Williams will be back to 100 percent and the team can avoid any other setbacks.
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 email@example.com or on Twitter @robert_maler.