Paul Weir wants his players to read.
He encourages it.
The team has a library/book exchange in the locker room and the coach has been known to give books to players on road trips. It’s usually when he feels there is something in the books that might strike a chord with one of the players at a particular time of the season.
As the Lobos (8-8, 2-2 Mountain West) head into Tuesday night’s road showdown with the San Diego State Aztecs (9-7, 1-2 MW), Weir might be considering changing his opinion.
His star senior, Anthony Mathis, appeared to be a different, far more timid player for much of Saturday’s road loss at Colorado State. Weir fears it may have been a case of Mathis paying a little too much attention to critical media coverage, including in the Journal and plenty of it on the always rational world of social media, concerning his dismal second half of point guard play in last week’s home loss to UNLV.
“I don’t know if he reads too much,” Weir said. “I don’t know if he saw too much (on social media) where he was almost just not looking to score (at CSU).”
Mathis is the Lobos leading scorer this season at 15.9 points per game and his 174 field-goal attempts leads the team as well. In fact, he has taken more 3-pointers (136) this season than any teammate but Vance Jackson has taken total shots.
And the numbers suggest it needs to be that way for the Lobos to be successful.
Even as the team continues to adjust to a two-post offense after a four-out, one-in scheme to start the season, the success still seems predicated not only on Mathis’ scoring, primarily from the perimeter, but just being active in general on offense, ensuring opposing defenses are having to focus on him.
“He needs to go out and be an active scorer for us,” said Weir.
In UNM’s eight wins, Mathis has averaged 17.8 points per game and 11.8 field-goal attempts. In two league wins, the averages climb to 22.0 points per game and 15.5 shot attempts.
In UNM’s eight losses, Mathis has averaged 14.0 points per game and 10.0 field goal attempts. In the past two league losses, it’s been 12.5 points and 11.0 shot attempts.
Over the final 20 minutes against UNLV when the 6-foot-3 Mathis appeared incapable of handling the defensive pressure from UNLV point guard Noah Robotham, Mathis shot 2-of-8 (1-of-6 from 3-point range), had six points, zero assists and two turnovers. More important, the Lobos were outscored in the second half 45-27 and lost.
The next couple days brought with it intense scrutiny of Mathis’ ability to play the point guard position.
In the first 20-plus minutes of the CSU loss, Weir noticed his leader wasn’t himself. He wasn’t awful, but he certainly wasn’t aggressive like the team needs, taking only two shots in the opening 20 minutes while committing two fouls and he had two turnovers.
When that sort of play, including not looking to score by the team’s best offensive threat, carried over to the second half, Weir had a quick hook for Mathis, subbing him out of the game just 1:27 into the second half for a little under two minutes. Weir told his senior: No amount of newspaper coverage or anonymous griping on social media will be calling the shots for the Lobos.
“Like I told him tonight, you can read whatever you want from other people, but the reality is we need you to score for us to be good,” said Weir. “Just because you had a bad game (against UNLV) or a game where people were piling on you doesn’t mean now you’re going to make a change. If I tell you you’re going to change, that’s fine. But that’s the only conclusion I came to when I subbed him out.
“I thought when he went back in the remainder of the game he was much more active looking to score.”
After just two shot attempts in the first 24 minutes at CSU, Mathis fired up six in the final 16 minutes, including getting a pair of free throw attempts, scoring 11 points.
While it was too little, too late, Weir hopes his message was clear and the momentary Mathis slump will be a short lived one.
KEITH STEPPING UP: On backup point guard Keith McGee getting his first regular minutes for the Lobos in the CSU loss (he played just two minutes in UNM’s first three MWC games), and responding with eight points and five assists in 24 minutes, Weir was pleased.
“Keith is a very talented player,” Weir said. “Unfortunately, the only reason he hasn’t been in are more off court things we’ve been working through. Nothing major, just him and me and us getting on the same page. It wasn’t a situation where we didn’t feel he was good enough. That’s never been a question.”
VISITING VIEJAS: Due to the league’s unbalanced schedule, the Lobos didn’t play in San Diego last season and won in Viejas Arena in in their last matchup there on Jan. 1, 2017. The last win over the Lobos at home for SDSU was on Feb. 6, 2016, in a 78-71 overtime game the league later issued an apology for on a blown call on a Lobos inbounds play at the end of regulation by referee Randy McCall that could have cost the Lobos the win.
Tuesday: UNM at San Diego State, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM/94.5 FM