It was one game.
And against an injury-depleted Wyoming Cowboys roster.
But after the past three losses for UNM, and a week of potential turmoil with a player leaving the team, Saturday’s 83-53 blowout of Wyoming in Dreamstyle Arena — a game in which six Lobos scored in double figures and the team defended as well as it has in two weeks — was exactly what the Lobos needed.
“Unfortunately you never know when your turning point is until further down the line,” said Lobos head coach Paul Weir. “Would I like (the Wyoming win) to be one? Of course. But at this point, we just have to do whatever we can to get ready for Vegas on Tuesday night.”
The Lobos never trailed and led by as many as 33 points in an easy win that moves them to 9-9 overall and 3-3 in Mountain West play, heading into Tuesday’s road rematch with a UNLV team that started their three-game skid with an upset victory in the Pit on Jan. 8.
Saturday, the Lobos shifted from the zone defense that dominated play the first five MWC games and went back to a man-to-man scheme that kept the Cowboys (4-14, 0-5) to 35.2 percent shooting overall (19-of-54) and 27.3 percent from 3-point range (6-of-22).
UNM was led by 16 points, five rebounds and three blocks from 6-foot-10 power forward Carlton Bragg, who said the defense is what Saturday was all about.
“They had two main guys,” Bragg said. “Let everyone else beat us. That was the game plan.”
The two “main guys” for Wyoming — Justin James and Hunter Thompson — combined for 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting. They averaged a combined 33 points per game entering the Pit.
The Lobos used a 14-0 run midway through the first half to extend their lead to 38-16, much to the relief of the announced crowd of 11,744.
UNM shot 48.3 percent, had 29 fast-break points and out-rebounded the Cowboys 43-26.
Sophomore point guard Keith McGee had 14 points off the bench and hit three 3-pointers, a welcome sight for a team needing help at the point guard position entering Tuesday’s UNLV rematch. And it hasn’t been easy going for McGee as his coach has been particularly hard on him and his development.
The hard coaching, McGee said Saturday, is why Saturday happened at all.
“It’s hard being a PG in division I basketball,” McGee said. “You’ve got to go hard each and every day. I appreciate my coach for getting on me. Lately he’s been getting on me, and I feel like I’ve just been getting better from it — just coming back and trying to play harder every day.”
Bragg was asked if the win got the bad taste of the three game losing streak out of the team’s mouth.
“No,” he said without hesitation. “We still have a bad taste in our mouths. We’re still hungry.”
NO DRINNON: Freshman point guard Drue Drinnon did not suit up for the Lobos on Saturday due to injury. He fell hard on a drive to the basket in Thursday’s practice, and was tended to then by the team’s trainer. He returned to practice and thought to be fine.
Saturday morning, Weir said, the freshman showed signs that gave the team enough concern that they might be concussion related that they said, “Let’s just kind of sit him and see when he comes back around.”
Drinnon is not officially in the concussion protocol that would require him to be held out 10 days, but could be placed in it if team doctors deem it necessary.
WALK-ONS: Rio Rancho High graduate Clay Patterson scored his first two points as a Lobo with a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left in the game. Fellow walk-on Jordan Arroyo (Atrisco Heritage Academy) also played 3 minutes with a block a rebound, a steal and a technical foul called after taunting a player following the block.
LIMITED COREY: Junior forward Corey Manigault played just 4 minutes, 34 seconds on Saturday. He did not return to the game after an incident in a timeout in the first half, though was cheering for teammates and smiling on the bench in the second half.
“I’ve been here many times with you guys with Corey,” Weir said. “I’m trying to coach and teach him the best way I know how. Unfortunately there are times when he gets coached or gets feedback that he does not always respond appropriately. He’s going to continue to pay the same price. Maybe at some point it will turn the corner. I hope it does. But in the meantime, I’m not going to sacrifice a game or him playing for behavior that I think is detrimental to our overall team or culture.”
Tuesday: UNM at UNLV, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM/94.5 FM
Box score: UNM 83, Wyoming 53