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It had been a long time coming for a player some thought might push for All-Mountain West Conference honors this season.
Tony Snell, the quiet 6-foot-7 New Mexico guard who isn’t particularly fond of getting in front of cameras and reporters, made his way from the Lobo locker room Saturday afternoon to face the media after his team blew out visiting Fresno State, 72-45.
For the first time in well over a month, Snell’s game – 16 points, three blocked shots, two steals – was worthy of the postgame news conference treatment.
“There was pressure on him today,” UNM coach Steve Alford said, referring to the challenge Snell faced in making up for the lost scoring of the benched Kendall Williams.
While his stat line won’t win him any player of the week honors, the way he’s played in the team’s two Mountain West games – Saturday as well as in Wednesday’s win over No. 24 UNLV – is a sign that he’s starting to break out of his shell.
“I think he went to the next level with his leadership and his toughness in the UNLV game and he carried that over (vs. Fresno State),” Alford said.
Snell averaged 14.5 points in the two league wins after closing non-conference play with an 11.1 points per game average. Since scoring a career-high 27 points, including a nationally-televised buzzer-beating 3-pointer against George Mason on Nov. 18 in the Paradise Jam, Snell hadn’t scored more than 13 points in a game.
While his defense has been well above average pretty much all season, and he has continued to pass the ball, his coaches have all but begged the junior from California to start being more selfish.
“I try to be aggressive and not rely on one thing,” Snell said. “I try to do multiple things out on the court, if someone pressures me I try to drive them and make plays.”
The way he seems to be taking defenders off the dribble with more regularity the past two games wasn’t lost on Fresno State coach Rodney Terry.
“He was more aggressive today,” Terry said. “He was more aggressive, he played a little bit more physical than he’s played to be honest with you. He’s a guy that has good length and can definitely can be a game changer, and he was today.”
BOISE SUSPENSIONS: The Boise State Broncos, UNM’s Wednesday night opponent, announced that three of the four players who had been suspended last week for unspecified team rules violations will be back in action for the Lobos game.
That includes sophomore guard Derrick Marks, a darkhorse Mountain West Player of the Year candidate who is averaging 16.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.
Broncos coach Leon Rice has not said what the four players did to warrant the suspensions.
The other two players returning to action for the UNM game are Mikey Thompson (8.7 points per game) and Darrious Hamilton (1.1). Backup center Kenny Buckner (6.7 points, 4.9 rebounds) will miss the next three games.
Even without the four players, Boise State went on the road to Laramie and knocked off previously unbeaten Wyoming on Wednesday, marking the fourth time this season the Broncos handed a team their first loss of the season.
FENTON ON FIRE: Alford said he was proud of the effort of senior Jamal Fenton on Saturday.
The guard, generously listed at 5-feet-9, scored nine points and grabbed a career-high six rebounds and almost had one spectacular dunk back with 8:04 remaining in the game, a shot that caught back iron and bounced out.
“Since he won the dunk contest two years ago at (the preseason) Midnight Madness, he hadn’t dunked the ball in a game yet,” Alford said. “It was encouraging to see a former dunk winner … come back and try to get a dunk in a game.”
POW PROBLEM? Today’s conference player of the week award is a tough one to predict.
In home wins over nationally-ranked UNLV and Fresno State, UNM center Alex Kirk averaged 21 points, 11.5 rebounds (nine offensive), 1.5 blocks and shot 57.7 percent from the floor.
In wins over Fresno State on the road and at home against Colorado State in overtime, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin averaged 21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds (four offensive), 1.5 blocks and shot 35.1 percent from the floor.
Franklin, the defending MWC Player of the Year, has not won a weekly award this season. Kirk won the award Dec. 31.
UP NEXT: Wednesday at Boise State; 7 p.m.; TV: Root; Radio: 770 AM
— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal