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Emptying the notebook: Kuiper’s key moment and other odds and ends from UNM’s win over SDSU

Here are some notes, thoughts, quotes, tweets and more from Saturday’s 79-75 Lobos win over the San Diego State Aztecs in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit that didn’t make it into the Journal’s print edition:

Sniper or pain?

OK, so Antino Jackson and Anthony Mathis have been getting all the love of late for the Lobos. And with good reason based on the stat sheets (and I’ll have more written in the next day or two on Jackson’s recent emergence and on Saturday already chronicled Mathis’ recent surge).

But what about that Alaskan guy they used to call Kuiper the Sniper?

Dane Kuiper, who’s been dealing with tendinitis in his knee the past couple weeks and has scored just 29 points in the past seven games, has quietly been every bit as much a nuisance to opposing teams in key moments as those two little guards getting all the love.

Maybe Dane the Pain is a better nickname, or it would be if you ask opposing teams.

For instance, take a look at the last two games when the Lobos had a combined plus-20 scoring with Kuiper on the floor (which, obviously, is pretty good since UNM beat both UNLV and SDSU by four points).

With 4:50 left in Saturday’s win over the Aztecs, it was Kuiper, who despite a scoreless night, made the Pit erupt by drawing a charge in the fullcourt press against a frustrated Devin Watson. (see Roberto Rosales’ picture at top of this story)

Noted SDSU coach Brian Dutcher: “Six of 12 turnovers (the Aztecs committed) were charges. That’s tough.”

But none were “tougher” than the one Kuiper managed to draw in that key moment based on how it put the Pit crowd over the point of no return and it kept its frenzied level the rest of the game after that.

On the ensuing possession, Mathis hit a 3-pointer for his career-high 21st point and pulled the Lobos within 73-71 in the game. UNM went on to close out from that moment.

And three days prior in Las Vegas, it was Kuiper’s steal in the press from Rebels guard Jordan Johnson that might have set the tone for UNM’s closing out of the game. Kuiper dove out of bounds and saved it to teammate Makuach Maluach. Kuiper then calmly got up, stepped back inbounds, got the ball back from Maluach and drained a 3-pointer that pulled UNM within 70-69. And UNLV seemed uncomfortable just inbounding the ball from that point forward.

As Lobos head coach Paul Weir told me on the flight back from Las Vegas on Thursday, that play was as key as any down the stretch in the Rebels game and, “turnovers in the press sort of have that effect.”

So, while the still ailing, but still playing, Kuiper hasn’t been the scoring threat of late he was a month ago, he’s left a mark in a big moment in each of the past two wins.

Electric start

The game started with a wildly popular electric guitar version of the national anthem played by Presliegh Casaus.

I had a version of the anthem video on Twitter, too, but I’m posting the much better version here from UNM’s Jamie Mondragon.

Hot in the Pit

There was no question the Pit was as loud as it’s been all season as things were heating up in the final minutes of Saturday’s UNM win.

And that’s not just the whiny sick guy with an ear infection, strep throat and a 102-degree fever talking (much to Weir’s delight, I was unable to ask any questions in the postgame press conference due to my throat).

But my whininess aside, the truth is the Pit seemed to grab the attention of plenty of people on Saturday night, including Lobo coaches and players.

“That’s what we want to do,” Weir said when asked about how loud the Pit got after Kuiper took that Watson charge. “I’m really thankful to the 11-plus (thousand) that came out. They were awesome tonight. That was the loudest it’s been since I’ve been here. They were in the game, man, and they were terrific.”

As for Mathis, the junior guard who said for the first time in three seasons at UNM, he felt the team had one of those old school Pit games.

“The past two years have been amazing,” Mathis said. “But I wasn’t here when it was ‘THE’ Pit. I think it’s starting to get there, to be honest.”

Announced attendance

The announced attendance on Saturday was 11,418. That is the third highest in Dreamstyle Arena this season (highest in Mountain West play).

The top five announced home crowds of the season:
• 13,207: Dec. 16 vs. Arizona
• 12,768: Dec. 9 vs. New Mexico State
• 11,418: Saturday vs. San Diego State
• 10,799: Jan. 6 vs. San Jose State
• 10,695: Nov. 11 vs. Northern New Mexico

Final stat sheet

Here’s the final box score stat sheet they handed out on press row:

Up next…

Saturday (Jan. 27): Colorado State at UNM, 8 p.m., espn3.com, 770 AM/94.5 FM

Meanwhile, in San Diego

The recent trend of success for the men’s team has been the opposite for the women’s team, losing at SDSU on Saturday afternoon despite a 41-point explosion from Cherise Beynon.

Halftime hardware

OK, so I gave the UNM marketing team a hard time the past two road games when Fresno State had baby races at halftime that rocked and UNLV had something going on with a dog and an acrobat that was pretty much a very Vegas type of whatever it was.

They were good. They were entertaining.

Saturday at UNM, it wasn’t a show so much, but anytime you can honor a national champion (make that a two-time national champion and one individual national champion), I’d say that makes for a pretty good halftime show for the home crowd.

UNM honored the women’s cross country team and, yes, the fans were more than happy with the halftime show in the Pit on Saturday.

Pretty pictures

The Journal’s Roberto E. Rosales is good a taking pictures.

And if you want more than just four in a tweet, here’s a link to a photo gallery of about 25 images from the game: https://abqjournal.photoshelter.com/gallery/UNM-Mens-Basketball-vs-San-Diego-State-01-20-2018/G0000kl3tjYPaYwE/C0000qSYEpFXzL98

A good read

Gov. Susana Martinez and First Gentleman Chuck Franco were on hand in the Pit on Saturday (first time I’ve seen them there since the Craig Neal era, but I could be wrong). They honored some kids who won here summer reading challenge on the court before the game.

But even before that, here’s a pic of them hanging out up the Pit ramp near the locker rooms.

Speaking of politics…

No, Gov. Martinez had nothing to do with the government shutdown, but the government shutdown had plenty to do with Mountain West basketball on Saturday. And, if it goes on very long, it could really throw a wrench in how the postseason tournament seeding and final league standings will look.

Why?

All Air Force games were cancelled until further notice, even Saturday’s game when Fresno State had already traveled to the academy for the game and in Fresno where the women’s teams from both schools were in town and were supposed to play their game.

As it relates, for now, to the UNM Lobos, the non-Fresno State/Air Force game on Saturday means the Lobos at 5-3 in league play move ahead of the 4-3 Fresno State Bulldogs in the standings.

Meanwhile, in Reno

In the game for first place in the league standings in Reno, the host Wolf Pack took care of the visiting Broncos and are now a game and a half up in the league standings at 7- to second place BSU’s 6-2.

Saturday’s scores

There were five scheduled games on Saturday for Mountain West men’s basketball, four that were played due to the Fresno State/Air Force postponement.
• Fresno State at Air Force (postponed)
• UNLV 79, Colorado State 74
• New Mexico 79, San Diego State 75
• Wyoming 85, Utah State 77
• Nevada 74, Boise State 68

MWC standings

Through Saturday’s games, including the postponement of the Fresno State at Air Force game, here is what the league standings rundown looks:

And for those interested in the updates +/- standings (A team gets a plus-1 for a road win, a minus-1 for a home loss):

The plus/minus standings pretty much reflect the regular standings by the end of the season, but for now give a little peak at which teams are doing a little something extra with the schedule they’ve played.

And two thoughts along those lines: A) how a team six games in is at “0” the way UNLV got there is beyond me as the Rebels have three road wins already and three home losses, and B) UNM being plus-1 right now is a great sign considering as of Jan. 20, the Lobos already have a remaining schedule that does NOT include road games at Nevada, Boise State, San Diego State, UNLV or Fresno State.

Listen up!

I did a podcast on Friday to accompany Saturday’s gameday feature I wrote on Lobos junior guard Anthony Mathis, who scored a career-high 21 points on Saturday.

Here’s the Talking Grammer, Ep. 3: Anthony Mathis podcast, if interested…

Grammer’s Guesses

On the one hand, I had a very good day picking games against the spread. The Guesses went 3-0-1. I’m now 19-18-2 on the season picking MWC games against the spread.

On the other hand, that damn coin from my daughter’s piggy bank also went 3-0-1, so I didn’t gain any ground. The coin is now 22-15-2.

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