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Lobos roll in rare game played in historic Ralph Tasker Arena

HOBBS — The Taskervitch Band played Y.M.C.A. at halftime for an announced crowd of 1,200 fans.

Popcorn was popping in the small concession stands, its aroma seeping into the doors of Ralph Tasker Arena, where the hallways are lined by long trophy cases full of history and basketball lore.   

The WiFi password for the unusually large visiting media contingent was, appropriately, “17 banners.”

On this particular Sunday afternoon, the historic New Mexico gym the Lobos played in wasn’t the Pit and the only game in town for the day wasn’t really the point of the trip at all as the UNM Lobos wrapped up nonconference play with a 103-47 blowout of NAIA member University of the Southwest.

“The reason we even created the game was to merge our two basketball communities that are so far away, maybe in theory, but in practice we’re really close to each other,” said Lobos second-year coach Paul Weir. “There’s a lot of similarities. I’m hopeful that this could be the start of a lot of good things, not only basketball wise, maybe community wise, enrollment wise, just good feelings between the two basketball communities. …

“This is a game I’ll probably never forget for the rest of my life. And hopefully our players as they move on in their lives and in their careers and things that they do, will remember this as well.”

Saturday, after the Lobos (6-6) spent about seven hours in a bus traveling through winter conditions around the state to get to the oilfield hotbed in the southeast corner of the state, the team held an open practice and autograph session and attended the Saturday night championship game of the Hobbs High School Holiday Tournament. The event with the most potential for longterm benefit of the unusual in-season Lobos field trip, was the invitation-only booster function involving the Lobo Club and select Lobo boosters at the Hobbs Country Club.

“In theory,” Weir said, “there’s a lot of things we wanted to get out of this and I don’t think there’s anything we haven’t (gotten) that we wanted to.”

As for on the court, the game is what one would expect for a Division I program playing a 3-8 NAIA team during a holiday break.

The Lobos never trailed, jumping out to a 15-4 lead before the Mustangs hit their first field goal (they had hit four free throws prior) of the game with 12:53 showing on the clock in the opening half.

Senior Lobos guard Anthony Mathis hit three of his game-high six 3-pointers during a 16-0 first half scoring run that pushed the UNM lead to 42-13. Mathis ended with a game-high 18 points in 15 minutes played.

The Lobos, who led 50-19 at the half, used a 21-0 run midway through the second half that included dunks from Carlton Bragg and Vladimir Pinchuk that brought the crowd to its feet and had both radio crew announcers — one from Albuquerque, one from Hobbs — both screaming as though it were March.

And the highlight of the postgame stat sheet for the Lobos was seeing its youngest players get extended minutes and experience at a time the program is actually going through some rather significant offensive and defensive schematic changes (playing more zone defense, emphasizing post entry passes on offense more than 3-point shooting on offense) before Wednesday’s Mountain West Conference opener at Air Force.

“Basketball wise, we kind of got a little lucky,” Weir said of the game. “We didn’t obviously schedule this game (in December) with this in mind, but I think everyone can see we’re making some schematic changes to things that we’re doing. We put it in before the (Dec. 22) Penn game and this became a really good game for us to come out and practice things that are new to us and almost gives us an exhibition game kind of like it would be at the beginning of the season.”

Four Lobos scored in double figures, including 10 from freshman Tavian Percy. Fellow freshman scholarship player Drue Drinnon had seven points and a career-high 12 assists in 21 minutes. And both Lobo walk-ons — Jordan Arroyo (Atrisco Heritage Academy) and Clay Patterson (Rio Rancho High School) — saw action, with Arroyo scoring six points on 3-of-3 shooting, including a dunk that had his teammates going crazy on the baseline-positioned team benches in the yellow and gold arena.

ON TASKER: The gym’s namesake, and his famous Hobbs Eagles Press that helped Ralph Tasker become a nationally-recognized coach who won 11 of the program’s 17 state titles, is also the subject of a book Weir is almost done reading.

When asked about the similarities between what Tasker did and what Weir is trying to do with the Lobos, the young coach stopped the question in its tracks.

“He is a legend in and of himself,” Weir said. “Right now if I could even come a millionth close to that, I’ll take it.”

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