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Steady Kuiper leads Lobos in season-opening victory

So, about that injured back Dane Kuiper had that kept him out of the start of official practices six weeks ago.

And then that shoulder injury he suffered in the Cherry-Silver game on Oct. 19 that kept him off the practice floor plenty in the past two weeks?

Yeah, don’t worry about it. Lobos coaches certainly don’t lose much sleep worrying about whether Kuiper, the Lobos’ senior guard from Alaska, will be ready to go.

Tuesday night, in New Mexico’s rather chaotic, sometimes disjointed 87-84 road win at Cal. State Northridge with a roster bursting at the seems with newcomers playing together for the first time and several getting their first taste of Division I action, Kuiper was arguably the best Lobo on the court from start to finish.

“He shot it well early, which for me is always very comforting just because I know Dane is a confidence guy with regard to shooting,” said Lobos coach Paul Weir. “But he’s just well rounded. Like I talk about, his defense, his rebounding, his overall maturity on the court is just something we really need.”

The stats that are easily tracked show that Kuiper ended the night with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting (3-of-5 from 3-point range), with four rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes of action. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Kuiper continues to do those things that don’t show up on a stat sheet, too. That’s apparent by his starting a team-high 26 of UNM’s 34 games last season for a coach who changes starting lineups from game to game based on deflections. That was the point of emphasis Weir decided was most important to the team a season ago.

But shooting, as Weir noted, is what makes Kuiper a particularly dangerous threat because he can stay on the floor for all those other reasons. When he’s also hitting his shot for outside, he spreads defenses out.

Asked by the Journal in August what he would like to be remembered for when he leaves UNM, Kuiper said, “I definitely want to leave a legacy of just a good role model. Someone to look up to. And then, obviously, a great shooter. I want to be a Lobo great shooter just like (fellow senior Anthony Mathis) does.”

Tuesday was the fourth time Kuiper had scored 15 or more points in a game against a Division I opponent, but it interestingly enough was the first time he did so in a Lobos victory. His previous three included a career-high 24 points vs. Arizona last season on Dec. 16 in which he hit a career-best six 3-pointers on just eight attempts. On Jan. 10, 2017, he had 17 points and was 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in a home loss to UNLV. And his 15 points against New Mexico State on Dec. 19, 2016, including another 3-of-5 shooting night from 3-point range.

NO BRAGG: The NCAA on Tuesday notified UNM it had decided not to approve the waiver request to allow transfer Carlton Bragg to play before his Dec. 16 eligibility date.

Bragg, a junior who played two seasons at Kansas before transferring to Arizona State last year for the fall semester, made the trip to Northridge in case the NCAA had a different decision.

Weir told the Journal after Tuesday’s game he was disappointed and “shocked” by the NCAA’s ruling on the waiver request. UNM will still appeal the ruling with the hopes of having Bragg join the team sooner rather than later.

UNM has not said what grounds they are requesting a hardship waiver on for Bragg.

NCAA rules state a player who transfers must sit out a full academic year after transferring. Since he was enrolled at ASU last fall, he is now deemed eligible at UNM after the fall semester concludes, which is Dec. 14.

ROAD WIN: Tuesday’s Lobos win at CSUN was the earliest UNM men’s basketball victory on the calendar (Nov. 6) in program history.

It was also the earliest game ever played by UNM on the calendar as the NCAA moved up the start of this season, but getting the first victory away from home out of the way hasn’t always been easy.

In the past 20 seasons — the Mountain West Conference era — the Lobos averaged 3.4 games away from the Pit (either road games or neutral court games) before its first victory. That includes seven times the team won its first game away from the Pit.

Coincidentally, Tuesday’s win being the earliest calendar win in program history breaks the previous mark of Nov. 9, 2007, which was also the last time the Lobos started the season with a road game, winning over Colorado in Boulder.

SEASON TICKETS: As of close of business Wednesday, UNM had sold 8,726 men’s basketball season tickets. Season tickets will remain on sale through Saturday’s exhibition game against Northern New Mexico.

Saturday: Northern N.M. at New Mexico (exhibition), 7 p.m., 770 AM/94.5 FM