LAS VEGAS, Nev. – They had just lost their fourth game in a row.
And the only two wins for the University of New Mexico Lobos on that Nov. 25 afternoon in Niceville, Fla., were against NAIA Northern New Mexico and an Omaha team that just ended its season 9-22.
The Lobos had just been dominated by a Maryland Terrapins team that jumped out to a 27-3 lead in eight minutes and coasted the final 32 minutes of the game for an 80-65 victory.
To say the least, the Paul Weir era as the program’s new head coach wasn’t off to the best of starts.
But even in that moment, the first-year coach never wavered from his plan – a philosophy of emphasis on conditioning, a run-and-gun offense and full court, pressure defense for 40 minutes in a high-risk, high-reward approach.
It certainly was heavy on the risk and low on the reward the first half of the season.
“I didn’t want to put this team together to beat the teams that are (picked) with us at the bottom of the Mountain West – Air Force and San Jose,” Weir said that day in Florida after the Maryland loss. “We put this team together to try and have a shot against Nevada. And we put this team to have a shot at TCU. And with all due respect to Tennessee Tech and anybody else, that’s why we’re doing this.
“We may have some slips-ups against some teams that maybe we’re not supposed to, but I can’t really think of any other way of coaching other than going out and trying to be the best or beat the best and hopefully we’ll be able to continue to grow this way and give some teams some trouble in March.”
That was then.
Thursday in the Thomas & Mack Center, in the Mountain West tournament quarterfinals, one thing has already come to fruition: The Lobos, who secured the league’s No. 3 seed for the tournament and are riding a five-game win streak, are indeed, in March, playing their best basketball of the season. And, starting with today’s game against No. 6 Wyoming, UNM is hoping its conditioning, chemistry and frenetic style of play do give some teams some trouble.
So focused on giving his team its best shot at peaking in March and having a shot at success in a tournament format, Weir and the Lobos haven’t taken a day after a game off this season as most teams do. Even after Saturday’s dramatic Senior Night overtime victory over Fresno State, in which the team capped the regular season by securing an unlikely third-place finish in the league, the Lobos were back at practice the next day at 9 a.m.
“Really, the idea since we started it was to be able to play back-to-back games and getting up that next day and going to work (which) would hopefully pay off when we got to a situation when we had to play a second game in two days,” said Weir.
But, while Weir was trying to prepare his team’s bodies for the quick turnaround format of conference play, he hasn’t wanted their minds thinking about anything other than Game 1 against the Cowboys – a team UNM swept in the regular season, including the record-setting 119-114 win in Laramie on Feb. 20.
“All I’ve ever tried to do since I’ve become head coach is simplify their worlds and make it a little more basic,” Weir said. “That’s really all this is about.”
NOTES: The Lobos had a Wednesday morning practice at Las Vegas’ Findlay Prep High School and, after watching the first half of the Wyoming/San Jose State first-round game, had an evening shootaround in the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility next door to the Thomas & Mack Center. …
As expected, Lobos junior win Jachai Simmons did not make the trip to Las Vegas as he deals with personal issues. His father died in January and he has played in just three of the team’s past nine games.