ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Not all of this week’s attention in the Mountain West Conference is focused on Saturday’s showdown in Las Vegas.
While 14th-ranked UNLV (21-4, 5-2) plays host to 13th-ranked San Diego State (20-3, 6-1) in a huge league matchup that afternoon, much of the talk on Monday’s weekly teleconference was about the hottest team in the league right now – New Mexico (19-4, 5-2).
The Lobos lost to both San Diego State and UNLV in the first half of league play, but have since won four straight games by an average of 26 points. After playing host to Wyoming (18-5, 4-3) on Saturday, the Lobos visit San Diego State on Feb. 15 then play host to UNLV Feb. 18 in the rematches.
“I think, without question, (UNM) is the deepest team in the league,” TCU coach Jim Christian said. “In my mind, from top to bottom, I think they’re the deepest team I’ve seen in my four years here. Because the guys who come off the bench impact the game. (Phil) McDonald comes off the bench, to shoot the percentage he does (46.6 from the field); there’s just different guys. (Jamal) Fenton comes in, it gives them no loss at all, or not much of a loss, between their 1 and 10.
“I think that’s certainly going to help them because of the travel in this league and because of how deep and how good the teams are in this league.”
TCU lost to UNM 71-54 in the Pit just more than a week ago.
Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds, whose team was bombed 81-42 at home by the Lobos last week, also talked about UNM on Monday.
“Overall, they probably have the best inside-outside scoring ability of any team in the league,” Reynolds said. “Everybody has good size, but their size has the ability to score. They shoot the ball extremely well from the perimeter and they defend extremely well. You add on top of that, they have 10 guys they can go with.”
UNLV/SDSU II: The Aztecs won the first meeting 69-67 in San Diego but will be the underdogs this time. UNLV won five straight after that loss, but had that streak snapped with a 68-66 loss at Wyoming on Saturday.
In the first meeting with SDSU, the Rebels shot just 28.6 percent (10-35) percent from the floor in the first half and 35.3 percent (24-68) for the game. But Rebel coach Dave Rice says he expects those numbers to improve this go-around.
“Anytime a team wins a game, you have to give the majority of the credit to the team that wins the game,” Rice said. “Having said that, we are very confident that if we get the looks on Saturday that we got at San Diego State, we’re pretty confident we’re going to make those shots.
“We understand the challenge against playing against a terrific defensive team, but we’ll be very confident shooting the ball, especially on our home court.”
CHALLENGING SLOGAN: While the Lobo players and media have latched on to calling the last two weeks “13 days of hell” for the program, Alford says that’s not a phrase he ever used – in public or to his team.
Following the back-to-back losses to San Diego State and UNLV, on Jan. 27, Alford said the next two weeks would be “13 days of challenge” for his team, in an effort to make his team tougher.
A couple of the Lobos referred to the period it as “13 days of hell,” and the rally-cry took off.
“That’s all we’ve ever called it,” says KNML’s Erik Gee, host of his station’s afternoon talk show. “I think Brandon (Vogt, Gee’s co-host) came up with it at a press conference. We’ve never called it 13 days of challenge – that sounds like a weight-loss program.”
On Monday, Alford said he hadn’t realized the term was being used until reading it in that morning’s Journal.
NOTES: San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was named the MWC player of the week. The sophomore guard averaged 20.0 points and 9.5 rebounds and was a combined 10-of-20 from the floor and 18-of-20 from the foul line in wins over Boise State and TCU.
… The Lobos received five points in this week’s AP Top 25 and 13 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll. The Journal voted the Lobos 24th this week, giving them two of the five points in the AP writer’s poll.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal