The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team showed what it was capable of on Saturday — unceremoniously dismissing undefeated Nevada 85-58.
Now the team will have to live up to the standard it set.
Despite the lop-sided victory, the Lobos didn’t necessarily do anything extraordinary against the Wolfpack from a statistical standpoint.
Sure, Nevada had an off night — even though New Mexico’s defense probably had something to do with it. But taking care of its own business apparently put the Lobos on the right path.
UNM head coach Paul Weir said his pregame message highlighted taking care of their execution. And, as impressive as the result was, there was nothing in the box score that New Mexico overachieved in or isn’t capable of achieving night-in, night-out.
New Mexico (8-6, 2-0 MW) struggled mightily in the early part of the season and seemed to lack an identity — or at least cohesiveness. The Lobos are a modest 4-4 at Dreamstyle, but have the chance to improve to over .500 at home with a win over the Rebels.
The team suffered back-to-back 25-plus losses earlier in the season and, after 11 games of non-conference action, had recorded a losing record at its home arena, The Pit, despite its historical penchant as one of the toughest venues to play in.
But all that appears to be in the rear-view mirror after winning three straight games, including victories against its first two Mountain West opponents. The Lobos will not face Nevada again in the regular season, so they could have an inside track in terms of the regular season conference title.
UNM will look to improve to 3-0 in Mountain West play when it faces UNLV on Tuesday evening, The Lobos swept the season series last year, but the final scores in both games were very close.
New Mexico took an 85-81 decision in Las Vegas in the first matchup in round one. In the rematch, the Lobos blew a large second half lead late in the game, but came from behind to win 91-90 after Makuach Maluach, a freshman at the time, nailed a game-winning 3-pointer.
UNLV also won its first two conference games and is sitting at 8-6 overall. The Runnin’ Rebels knocked off Colorado State 78-76 on Jan. 2 and followed that up with a 68-56 win over Wyoming on Saturday.
The Rebels have averaged 73.5 points per game this season and have four players with double-digit scoring averages. Senior guard Kris Clyburn leads the way with 12.5 points per game, followed by freshman forward Joel Ntambwe with 12.4. Amauri Hardy has chipped in 11.7 per contest and Shakur Juiston 10.8, giving UNLV the ability to score in a variety of ways.
UNLV has struggled from the 3-point line so far, shooting under 30 percent from beyond the arc and just 41.4 percent overall. That could make it difficult for the team to shoot over the top of New Mexico’s evolving zone defense. But the Rebels have made up for some of its deficiencies with some solid work on the glass, averaging 41.9 rebounds per game and limiting turnovers. Defensively, 4.6 blocks per game has made it tough for opponents to score on UNLV in the paint.
New Mexico may not need to do much damage down low, as the team has seemed to thrive on using the 3-point line. It averages nearly 10 3-pointers per game and hits at a 36.6 percent clip.
After getting a couple of games under his belt, the addition of junior transfer Carlton Bragg has arguably opened things up for the Lobos on both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-10 forward commands attention when he posts up, freeing up shooters on offense and has athleticism and poise that makes it hard for defenses to penetrate.
Senior sharpshooter Anthony Mathis leads the Lobos with a 16.4 point average, while Vance Jackson’s 11.9 and Bragg’s 10.2 round out a trio of UNM players scoring in the double digits. Bragg has also carried a heavy load rebounding the basketball, posting a team high 8.2 boards per game.
There are four Mountain West teams with unblemished conference records, with Fresno State and Boise State making up the other pair. New Mexico can whittle that number down by at least one with a win over UNLV before the Lobos head out on the road.
The game is scheduled for a 9 p.m. tip time at Dreamstyle Arena aka The Pit. It will air on ESPN2 and can also be heard on 770 KKOB for radio listeners.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s basketball, football and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.