Sitting in front of a microphone in the rival school’s media room, Paul Weir faced the cameras and reporters after a loss in his first taste of the Rio Grande Rivalry.
“Unfortunately we weren’t very good tonight in the last 20 minutes and I wasn’t very good either,” said Weir. “That’s something I’ve got to live with and I’ve got to work on and get better at, which I’m going to do. Our team has a lot of growing to do, and I have a lot of growing to do.”
That was in the Pit on a Friday night game on Nov. 18, 2016. The then-New Mexico State coach lost his first game in the heated instate rivalry, taking responsibility for a 72-59 loss to the Lobos.
One day shy of a year later, now coaching the University of New Mexico in the Rio Grande Rivalry, Weir found himself on Friday again sitting in the opposing team’s media room taking responsibility for a loss in the series, his first with the Lobos.
“I apologize for what you saw tonight,” Weir said Friday night in Las Cruces after NMSU beat UNM, 75-56. “We have to get back to work and improve our product. We weren’t very good tonight.”
One year ago, Weir and the Aggies answered the bell, shoring up their errors and beating the Lobos in the rematch 22 days later.
For Weir to repeat that feat now as the Lobos coach, again in a 22-day turnaround window before the Dec. 9 contest in Dreamstyle Arena, there is plenty of work to be done.
The Lobos looked unable to adjust when the Aggies, unbothered by the press or high-tempo offense, controlled the pace of play. NMSU neither turned the ball over versus the press nor let the Lobos offense get out in the fast break, largely pre-empted by the Aggies’ 25 offensive rebounds.
It remains to be seen if the Lobos even have a Plan B when opposing teams don’t flinch, or fatigue, against UNM’s relentless pace.
Weir said earlier this month that the first part of this season is about establishing a foundation of hard work and top conditioning more than fine tuning offensive or defensive schemes. That, in part, was why Weir continued pressing and shooting 3s deep into each of UNM’s first two games, even when they were out of hand.
“Part of it is we spent so much time on our style of play and our culture, we all have to get better at what we’re doing offensively and defensively,” Weir said after the 147-76 win Nov. 11 over Northern New Mexico. “I didn’t want a possession to go by where we didn’t get a chance to improve.”
HISTORY SAYS: First-year coaches rarely sweep in the Rio Grande Rivalry, something NMSU’s Chris Jans will be trying to do on Dec. 9.
Since Lou Henson started coaching at NMSU in 1966-67, only one of seven head coaches (Weldon Drew in the 1979-80 season) beat the Lobos twice in his first season.
Up the road, three of the past nine Lobos coaches Charlie Harrison 1979-80, Fran Fraschilla 1999-2000 and Ritchie McKay 2002-03) since Bob King took over in the 1962-63 season have gone 0-2 in their first year coaching the Lobos
NO TOs? NMSU turned the ball over 14 times Friday. UNM’s first two opponents averaged 29.5.
Asked Wednesday if his team could win if it didn’t turn teams over, Weir said he knew it would be a challenge to get steals from NSMU, but thought other turnovers were still possible.
“The front of it is what everyone sees, but the back of it (when teams pass halfcourt) sometimes is where the fatigue sets in and they give you something easy,” Weir said.
Jans said handling the press was to simply let his guards decide what to do. “Our plan was to kind of take what they gave us and let our guys make decisions on the fly.”
FOURTH QUARTER: Men’s college basketball is the last of a dying breed playing two halves instead of a format of four quarters as it is in high school, women’s college, professional and international games.
But the fourth quarter — the final 10 minutes of the second half — is still when men’s college games are often decided.
For UNM, that is when, by design, they intend to take advantage of fatigued opponents who have been running all game. That was the case when UNM outscored NNMC 38-18 in the mythical fourth quarter on Nov. 11 and outscored Omaha 40-11 on Nov. 14.
Friday in Las Cruces, they were the ones who wilted, either by fatigue or frustration. In the final 10 minutes, NMSU outscored the Lobos 30-18.