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	Phillip McDonald shields the ball away from Cal’s Max Zhang during the Lobos’ 86-78 win Wednesday. The Lobos will try to remain perfect on Saturday, when they face New Mexico State at The Pit.

Phillip McDonald shields the ball away from Cal’s Max Zhang during the Lobos’ 86-78 win Wednesday. The Lobos will try to remain perfect on Saturday, when they face New Mexico State at The Pit.

After crushing California, ready to dominate State

Let it ride!

Essentially, the UNM men’s basketball team is playing roulette — whether Russian in nature, Saturday might tell — and the stakes are high.

Potentially, the Lobos (7-0 overall) could parlay their early success into a spot in the top 25.

With that said, Saturday’s game against New Mexico State, for which only 400 tickets remained available as of 4 p.m. Thursday, is a double-or-nothing scenario.

Yes, the Lobos answered questions about their legitimacy with a decisive victory Wednesday over California, which was ranked No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.

The Lobos, including the exhilarating win over Cal, have won 14 straight home games and are 44-2 in their last 46 nonconference matchups, one of those a 97-87 win over NMSU on Nov. 17.

Still, the Aggies — in spite of losing in their last six visits to The Pit — will provide a harsh, and possibly incriminating, follow-up question.

Unquestionably, then, the query becomes a matter of how Lobo head coach Steve Alford will prepare his Lobos to avoid a letdown.

And, indeed, Alford was armed with an explanation of how the Lobos will get that done.
“One, you do the best job of coaching in the next 48 hours,” Alford said. “If you’re a player — and that’s why we stress — it’s not about the name on the back of the jersey. That’s one of the reasons that we don’t have names on the back of the jersey. This is a team sport, and it’s about being a Lobo. On the flip side, when we talk about who we play against, it should never be about the front of their jersey. It should be about, ‘Here’s our next opponent. This is what they do. This is what we have to do to be successful.’”

Not that Alford’s worried; UNM is well-versed on everything Aggie.

“That might be a warning for me if it was somebody from the East Coast that none of our guys knew about, but this is New Mexico State,” Alford said. “We started talking about them inside the locker room (Wednesday) night. I’ll be shocked if our guys don’t come out with big-time effort on Saturday night.”

As the season has progressed, the Lobos’ center position, which was pegged to be UNM’s unraveling, hasn’t been as problematic so far, as evidenced by UNM’s effort against Cal’s 7-foot 3-inch Max Zhang.

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They effectively neutralized him, cuffing him to just four points in 16 minutes of play.

“They tried playing a 7-foot guy and they couldn’t, because the 7-foot-3 guy couldn’t guard Darington (Hobson),” he said. “It’s a cat-and-mouse thing. I think we just knew going in that we weren’t going to be big this year. We can’t change that we can be all the miracle workers we want, but Darington’s not all of a sudden going to be 6-foot-9. We can’t make A.J. (Hardeman) 7-foot-1.” But we can learn how to play.”
Despite not having a towering presence on the team — the Lobos’ tallest player, Matt Staff, is 6-foot 9-inches — UNM, on average, is outrebounding foes by seven boards per contest.

The Lobos, too, will need to diminish NMSU’s Hamidu Rahman’s role in the offense. Last time, Rahman scored 12 first-half points, but the Aggies didn’t really need their 6-foot 11-inch big man in the second half and relied dangerously on guards Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson, who combined for 43 points at the Pan American Center on Nov. 17.

“They’re streaky scorers,” said guard Phillip McDonald. “As long as we contain those two guys, I think it will be a good game for us.”

If anything, the Aggies will look to push the ball and get easy buckets in transition.
Still, don’t expect the Lobos to dawdle and try to methodically work the half-court game, Alford said.

The Lobo coach said he refuses to compromise playing at a palpitating pace, the same pace which has allowed UNM to score or exceed 80 points in six of its seven contests this season and a marker of success.

Under Alford, the Lobos are 25-1 when they score 80 or more points, their only loss coming against Utah in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Mountain West Conference Tournament.

“We don’t mind the track meet,” Alford said. “We like track meets. The last thing we want to do is slow it down. I thought the difference was in maybe that eight-minute stretch in Las Cruces when we didn’t guard and we took quick shots. There’s a difference in playing up-tempo and playing too fast — and we got to playing too fast.”

Basketball vs. NMSU
7 p.m.
The Pit*

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