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McDonald Embraces Role

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Senior Guard Is Healthy And Heating Up for New Mexico

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – After being banged up much of the season, New Mexico guard Phillip McDonald is healthy and is starting to live up to expectations in his senior season.

McDonald, however, doesn’t appear ready to regain his spot in the starting lineup – where he spent his first three seasons with the Lobos.

Still, McDonald, who was been hampered with an ankle injury and a mild concussion this season, could be a key if the Lobos (15-3), 1-1 MWC) are able to pull off an upset of 14th-ranked UNLV (17-3, 1-1) here tonight in a huge early-season Mountain West Conference game. The 6-foot-5 bomber had a season-high 20 points in the Lobos’ 75-70 home loss to 16th-ranked San Diego State and has made 18 of his last 31 3-point attempts during the past seven games.

Today

UNM at UNLV,  8 p.m. TV: CBS Sports (Comcast 274, DirecTV 613, Dish 152).
Radio: KOB-AM (770)

Meanwhile, starting sophomore guard Tony Snell – who snatched McDonald’s spot in the starting lineup in the season’s first game and has started every game since – is a combined 2-of-9 from the floor and 1-of-8 from 3-point range in UNM’s two MWC games, and has totaled just 10 points in those contests.

But UNM coach Steve Alford says he’s not planning to make a change in his starting lineup – at least not at that shooting guard spot.

“I don’t think so,” Alford said Friday.

Alford said the only different look could come at point guard, where junior Jamal Fenton has started the past three games while freshman Hugh Greenwood’s been recovering from an ankle injury.

“We’ll see how Hugh’s doing,” Alford said. “You don’t lose your position in the lineup because of injury. Phil’s a little different, because he was out three-to-four weeks, in and out of the lineup. But Phillip is doing really good. His minutes will be up, but I don’t see us doing anything with that (starting) position.”

McDonald, who started 98 of 100 games during his first three seasons at UNM, says he likes his new role.

“I really like coming off the bench,” McDonald said Friday. “I feel like providing that scoring off the bench will help us win ballgames at the end of the day, and that’s a positive thing for us. Not a lot of teams have good players off the bench; I think we do.

“As a bench player, you get to see what’s going on and what you can correct when you get on the floor.”

The Lobos will have plenty to correct from the second half of their loss to San Diego State on Wednesday. Alford said it was one of the worst 20 minutes of basketball his team has played this season.

“We’ve really been playing well, but we just had a bad half,” said Alford, whose team raced to a 10-0 lead against the Aztecs. “We didn’t guard anybody, and we didn’t make shots. I think the guys know that it was a missed opportunity, but we have another big opportunity (tonight).”

The Lobos were the preseason MWC favorites, while UNLV was picked second. But the Rebels, under first-year head coach Dave Rice, have got the running tag back in their nickname.

They basically play a pair of point guards in senior Oscar Bellfield (9.1 points, 5.3 assists per game) and junior Anthony Marshall (12.3 ppg, 4.9 apg), and feature two of the leagues best slasher/shooters in Chace Stanback (14.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Mike Moser (12.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg) – the latter being one of the final 25 candidates for the prestigious Wooden Award.

But while the Rebels have the national ranking, Rice says UNM came into the league race as the hottest team after nonconference play.

“My guess is, the first two losses (to Santa Clara and New Mexico State), they were just trying to figure out how to play without (graduated point guard) Dairese Gary,” Rice says of the Lobos. “They’re very, very difficult to guard, because they always have five guys on the floor that can hurt you from an offensive standpoint.”

NOTE: Tonight’s matchup is between coaches who won NCAA Tournament titles – Rice at UNLV (1990) and Alford at Indiana (1987).
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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