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Lobos Shake Off Slump

UNM finds itself in same spot as last year - fighting uphill for a post-season bid

One year ago this week, the UNM men's basketball team was barking up the same tree as this year's team.

Last year, the Lobos were 5-4 in Mountain West Conference play and staring at the bottom end of the standings after losing a 99-93 home game to the University of Wyoming Feb. 14. But the team regrouped in time to win four of its five last conference games. An 80-67 loss to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in the last game of the regular season gave the Rebels the conference regular-season championship.

One year later, UNM (15-8 overall, 4-5 in the Mountain West) could still finish with a 9-5 conference record - the same record as last year's team - and could win the regular season championship, provided it wins its remaining five conference games and the cards of fate fall its way.

It is a tall order with road games at Colorado State University and Wyoming looming next week, but it seems possible especially now that players and coaches appear to have re-entered the word "team" to their vocabularies.

"I thought it was a good team effort," UNM head coach Fran Fraschilla said of UNM's 71-52 win over San Diego State University Saturday. "Nineteen assists on 27 baskets, that's always a good sign."

In recent weeks Fraschilla has chided his team, saying, "We're just not a very good team right now," and that the team was playing as individuals. During games against Brigham Young University and Air Force University earlier this month - both losses - his point was painfully obvious.

Against BYU the Lobos had only 10 assists on 17-of-44 shooting while in losing to Air Force, UNM had only eight assists to go with its 49 points and sank only 15-of-37 shot attempts.

In Monday's win over Georgia State University, the Lobos dished out 18 assists, including 10 by point guard Marlon Parmer and four players scored in double figures. Against San Diego State Saturday, the Lobos posted 19 assists, a season-high 13 steals and three players scored in double-figure digits. Freshman post Patrick Dennehy led UNM with nine rebounds in one of his strongest efforts of the year.

Guard Ruben Douglas, who has led the Lobos in scoring their last four games, said the team was both hungry for home cooking and playing in The Pit.

"That road trip to Utah and Air Force was kind of a reality check for our team," Douglas said. "The coach gets on us during the game - `You're driving to the hole and there's somebody open.' But during the game you don't see that until you see the film. Now our chemistry's starting to come together."

In the Mountain West, BYU sits in the top spot with an 8-3 record. The University of Utah and Wyoming are tied for second place with 7-3 records. UNLV, which is barred from competing in the post-season play, including the conference tournament, is fourth at 6-4 and UNM follows at fifth.

With two weeks to go, though, many scenarios are possible.

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BYU plays its last three on the road, against Utah, UNM and Air Force. Utah has home games against Colorado State University and BYU and must travel to Air Force and UNM. Wyoming entertains Air Force and UNM and plays at San Diego State and UNLV. UNM has UNLV tonight, Colorado State and Wyoming on the road next week, and returns home for games against BYU and Utah.

The situation should clear up some tonight with the outcome of both the UNM-UNLV matchup and Colorado State's game against Utah, which is an ESPN Big Monday game.


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