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Three-point shooting is by design for Lobos

This was the plan.

OK, so maybe the University of New Mexico Lobos hitting 18 3-pointers on Saturday night in a record-setting 147-76 win over NAIA Northern New Mexico College wasn’t exactly something Paul Weir saw coming, but improving the Lobos shooting was.

On Saturday, seven Lobos attempted 3-pointers. Five hit 3’s, including three apiece from starter Dane Kuiper and backup Troy Simons, five from backup Anthony Mathis and six from junior guard Chris McNeal, who had a stellar debut as a Lobo with 24 points, 10 assists and 6-of-10 3-point shooting in just 23 minutes.

“My teammates did a good job of finding me for wide open catch and shoot 3’s,” McNeal said.

And it didn’t hurt that he just kept hitting them.

But, again, that’s been what Weir has said was the plan since his introductory news conference.

UNM ranked outside the top 200 (of 351) among Division I teams in 3-point shooting in three of the previous four seasons — 274th (32.7 percent) last season, 306th (30.8 percent) in 2015 and 216th (33.2 percent) in 2014.

“I had a vision and I’ve talked to Sam (Logwood) about it when I first got here,” Weir said, “and I’ve talked to the players about it when they all came in, that we were going to have some good players and surround them with shooters. And we were going to kind of play out of that.”

It wasn’t just lip service, either. He and his coaching staff spent the offseason finding eight new scholarship players (two are sitting out as transfers this season) who mostly fit into that very image of the Lobos Weir wanted. That is why Saturday wasn’t just about a couple players putting up the bulk of the attempts from beyond the arc, but pretty much a display of a roster where the green light is on top to bottom.

“We recruited this way,” Weir said. “One of the things I talked about when I got here was recruiting 3-point shooters and we have 3-point shooters. … This is what these guys do. This is what their skill sets are. We have a lot of very skilled 3-point shooters and we want to be able to use the 3-point shot and play this brand of basketball.”

The 18 made 3-pointers on Saturday night tied for the second most made in a game by UNM (the record remains 20, in a 2004 game against Santa Clara when UNM was 20-of-35).

But what happened Saturday, and again a week prior in a closed door scrimmage against Denver in which Weir said his team shot well, wasn’t the case for UNM’s improved shooting roster in an Oct. 21 closed scrimmage against Northern Arizona in which the Lobos didn’t shoot well. Nor was it the case in Oct. 27 exhibition loss to BYU in the Pit in which UNM shot just 5-of-28 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range.

And that fact isn’t lost on Weir.

“If we got two of those shots back, we would have won that game,” Weir said. “It still bugs me that we shot the ball like that in that game.”

Tuesday: Nebraska-Omaha at UNM, 7 p.m., 770 AM/94.5 FM, (online, no TV)

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