LOS ANGELES – Seven days don’t define a season.
But the weeklong gantlet the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team is running through three games in three time zones this week – one that culminates Friday night with a neutral-court game in the Staples Center against Saint Mary’s in Los Angeles – will without question not soon be forgotten by Lobos fans.
But will the memory be one of the season being lost before it really got started? Or will it be a reminder of the adversity-filled weeks that last year’s team seemed to use as a foundation for a late-season run?
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Albuquerque to Chicago to Peoria, Ill.
That was the first-leg of the trip and, as 7-point underdogs, the Lobos comfortably beat up on the Bradley Braves, 85-75, on Saturday in a game UNM head coach Paul Weir described as maybe the best win to date in his Lobos career.
Peoria, Ill., to Chicago to El Paso to Las Cruces.
That was the second leg of the trip, building up over three days to the Rio Grande Rivalry rematch on Tuesday night with New Mexico State. The matchup started with a pregame fight and punches thrown by UNM’s Corey Manigault and NMSU’s Eli Chuha and then saw the 6-point underdog Lobos suffer a historically bad, 100-65 loss to the Aggies. That left Weir talking postgame about being sick to his stomach, embarrassed and humiliated before the team’s three-hour bus ride back to Albuquerque early Wednesday morning.
“Unfortunately that’s done with and we have another game in three days,” Weir said Tuesday night after again apologizing to Lobo fans for the NMSU loss. “It’s my job to not allow what is an extraordinarily brutal evening to perpetuate into more.”
Las Cruces to Albuquerque to Los Angeles.
Here we are. And who knows what to expect as the Lobos (4-2), kick off a tripleheader of games today in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic against an also perplexing Saint Mary’s team. The Gaels (5-4) comfortably beat the Aggies in Las Cruces by 15 points on Nov. 14 before going on a four-game losing streak to close out November with a losing record.
The Lobos are again a 7-point underdog and are not expected to play Manigault, though the 6-foot-9 junior did make the trip and participate in Thursday night’s practice held at the University of Southern California.
Weir told the Journal on Wednesday night there was no update on whether Manigault would be disciplined. Then, once he and UNM became aware that KVIA-TV in El Paso released video that showed Manigault’s punch (one thrown after Chuha first threw a punch), Weir released a statement that remained noncommittal on specific discipline. Weir’s statement said the coaching staff didn’t encourage the altercation, was embarrassed by it and that “any member of this team who acts that way will have consequences and this will be no different.”
As for the game, the matchup would suggest the Lobos will have a long night.
Through six games, the best offensive team statistically the Lobos have played was NMSU, which ranks 109th out of 353 Division I teams in KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. And all the Aggies have done to the Lobos’ defense is average 99.0 points in two wins.
The Gaels? They rank 24th in the same category and also rank No. 6 in the nation in turnover rate, meaning what the Lobos look for most with their full-court press defense – turnovers – the Gaels basically don’t commit.
TRIPLEHEADER: Today’s tripleheader in the Staples Center was originally supposed to be a part of a tournament that featured UNM and SMC playing each other after first playing home games against lower-level opponents. When that part of the event fell through, the Lobos were left as the only Mountain West team without a non-conference tournament in which to play, but they were able to maintain today’s neutral-court matchup with the Gaels.
All three games in the tripleheader can be seen online on FloSports.TV, a pay-per-view website.
The other two games feature TCU playing USC (after the Lobos game) and No. 20 Arizona State vs. No. 6 Nevada in the nightcap. Nevada returns to Albuquerque on Jan. 5 in Mountain West play for the first time since the team’s 25-point comeback against the Lobos in 2017.