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Emptying the Notebook: Pit packed again for Rio Grande Rivalry

UNM’s Keith McGee celebrates the sweep over NMSU in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit on Saturday, using a broom handed to him after the game by a fan in the student section. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)


Here are some extra notes, quotes, stats, videos, tweets and whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Saturday’s 69-62 UNM win over New Mexico State in the Pit:

Welcome back…

The announced attendance in Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit for Saturday’s game: 14,488

That’s the largest attendance of the season. And largest UNM/NMSU rivalry game in awhile. And the largest game against any opponent in the Pit in awhile.

And it showed. Or was heard, one of the two.

Here are the attendance figures for the past 10 Lobo/Aggie games in the Pit:

2019: 14,488
2018: 14,393
2017: 12,768
2016: 13,892
2015: 15,362
2014: 15,335
2013: 15,411
2012: 15,411
2011: 15,303
2010: 15,330

Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Saturday’s game was so well attended. After all, the always accurate scientific poll results from Twitter told us it would beat last year’s attendance of 14,393.

And while an announced attendance of 14,488 makes it hard to believe Thursday’s UNM social media posts declaring the game was already within 1,000 tickets of a sell out (so, just 77 tickets were sold since Thursday afternoon, including all of Saturday’s walk-up crowd?), it was a no doubt crowded, rowdy atmosphere on Saturday that fans of both programs should be proud of.

It was the highest announced attendance since a home game vs. San Diego State in March 2016 and the highest attended rivalry game since earlier that season in December 2015.

It was as good a Pit game as I’ve seen in years. Somebody asked me if last year’s Nevada game was better, and I’d say no. That was 2,000 fewer fans and, because it was more celebratory in nature because it was a surprising blowout, it never had the same intensity and energy that Pit games of old had where the atmosphere and arena seemed to be involved in some way with the outcome.

Regardless of where you rank Saturday’s game atmosphere, it was nice compared to most games in the past half-decade of Lobo basketball. And it is something I hope the UNM/NMSU game always has in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

And the students showed up. UNM students, much scrutinized this season, filled all 1,065 of their student section seats, according to UNM, and any others who arrived at the arena after that 1,065 was full were still let in by scanning the student app on their phones.

He said it…

Or he tweeted it…

And to add to that, future Lobo Javonte Johnson was in the house, down from his home in Colorado Springs. He seemed to like Saturday’s game atmosphere as well…

The gamer

Here is the Carlton Bragg-heavy game story I filed from the Pit after Saturday’s game…

And the rare Journal column on Lobo hoop is also alive. I was lucky enough to have Journal columnist Rick Wright by my side on Saturday. Here’s his take on how special it is that New Mexico’s top two basketball programs still play an in-season home-and-home rivalry…

Oops, times 3

The Lobos, for the first time in years, are a team that regularly has alley-oops fill the postgame highlight reels.

Here are three from Saturday’s game…

JJ Caldwell to Corey Manigault with 12:47 left in the first half:

JaQuan Lyle to Carlton Bragg for the first of two back-to-back oops in the second half:

And Lyle to Bragg again for 42-35, Lobos in the second half:

A statline to Bragg about

The game story linked above was Carlton Bragg heavy. So I won’t go into detail again on all that here, but the statline is worth repeating:

Carlton Bragg vs. NMSU (Dec. 14, 2019)

• 17 points
• 17 rebounds (5 offensive)
• 10 fouls drawn
• 4 steals
• 1 block
• 4-5 FG
• 9-10 FT

Fresno State’s Nate Grimes, or maybe Boise State’s Derrick Alston have a shot at Mountain West Player of the Week on Monday for big games in wins against really bad opponents on Saturday (Alabama State and Cal Poly are rated 333 and 332 in the country, respectively, on KenPom). But both also had average to below average games in losses earlier in the week. Maybe Air Force’s A.J. Walker gets the nod with 19 points, seven rebounds in a road win at Denver (rated 312 by KenPom).

Or the MWC could do the right thing and follow up a week of giving Bragg a private reprimand for being involved in a double technical on Dec. 4 with Boise State’s R.J. Williams with giving him his first ever league Player of the Week award on Monday morning for his role in securing a rivalry win against NMSU on Saturday.

He said it, part 2

“We expected to win heading into the game. We had a great day of preparation. For the most part, I told my wife in the locker room, I liked where the game was at. I liked where the game was at, then in the end, down the stretch, people make plays. They made plays and we didn’t.” — NMSU head coach Chris Jans

To the victors go the … brooms

The Lobos haven’t been able to pull out the brooms since 2015. After having to watch the celebration social media posts of the Aggies the past couple of seasons, they made sure not to miss their opportunity to do so on Saturday…

In fact, the celebrations started on the court before the team even got back to the locker room…

Did UNM name its new football coach?

No.

A number to know: 7

NMSU had seven offensive rebounds, and seven second chance points as a result, in the first 8 minutes, 18 seconds of Saturday’s game.

After writing in Saturday morning’s Journal about NMSU’s dominance on the boards against the Lobos in this rivalry for years, especially on the offensive glass, it looked like another long night for UNM was coming.

But after those opening eight minutes, the Lobos allowed just five more offensive boards to the Aggies the next 32 minutes. NMSU won the overall battle of the boards on the night 35-33, but ended up with just the 15 points off 13 offensive rebounds.

Paul Weir said he would hope the Lobos’ depth, and ability to send multiple people into the paint to get rebounds, including several of the team’s guards, played a part in wearing the Aggies’ frontcourt players down after a quick start.

NMSU coach Chris Jans acknowledged this year’s roster isn’t like ones in the past in the rebounding category.

“We’ve been a decent rebounding team this year,” Jans said. “We’re not elite like we’ve been in the past. And they’re (UNM) getting more athletic and bigger, obviously. We won by two (the rebounding margin), but, like you said, prior to tonight, the five games I’ve been involved in, it’s been a pretty big discrepancy in the rebounds. And I know it’s something most teams talk about when they play us. I’m sure they’re happy only losing that battle by two.”

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City…

In a game decided in the final minute, the BYU Cougars beat their third consecutive Mountain West team, edging the Utah State Aggies on Saturday in a game that both teams had their star big men back in actions — BYU’s All-America candidate Yoeli Childs back from an NCAA suspension and Utah State’s sophomore center Neemias Queta back from a knee injury.

Around the Mountain

There were seven nonconference games involving Mountain West teams on Saturday:

• Air Force 79, Denver 75
• Boise State 100, Alabama State 57
• Stanford 78, San Jose State 58
• New Mexico 69, New Mexico State 62
• Northern Colorado 74, Wyoming 53
• Fresno State 62, Cal Poly 37
• BYU 68, Utah State 64

Mountain West standings

Since there are no MWC games again until the first week of January, these haven’t changed since last week. But, let’s post them anyway, sorted by conference records with overall record in parenthesis after the team’s name:

2-0 San Diego State (10-0)
2-0 Utah State (10-2)
2-0 New Mexico (10-2)
1-0 Nevada (7-4)
1-0 UNLV (4-7)
1-1 Boise State (6-4)
1-1 Air Force (5-6)
0-2 Fresno State (3-7)
0-2 Colorado State (7-6)
0-2 Wyoming (3-8)
0-2 San Jose State (3-8)

Last team standing?

There are five undefeated Division I basketball teams remaining. The two with the highest probability to be the country’s last remaining undefeated team based on their schedule ahead and projected win probabilities of those games are both UNM Lobo opponents this season.

Fast start

The Mountain West is one of only two (of 32) conferences with three 10-win teams in San Diego State (10-0), Utah State (10-2) and New Mexico (10-2).

The West Coast Conference (Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara) is the other.

Two other conferences (Big Ten and Big East) have two teams at 10 wins while the other 28 have one or fewer teams having reached 10 wins so far.

Also, and since the college season starts earlier than ever, this is the earliest I could find three Mountain West teams had already won their 10th games.

Meanwhile, in Tempe…

The rough start to the 2019-20 season for the UNM women’s basketball team didn’t get any better on Saturday. Not only did the Lobos lose to Arizona State, they were dominated…

Plus/minus numbers

Here are the always popular plus/minus numbers from Saturday’s game for the Lobos with minutes played in parenthesis:

+14 Corey Manigault (23:09)
+13 Zane Martin (18:53)
+6 JaQuan Lyle (38:45)
+4 Keith McGee (13:39)
+3 Carlton Bragg (33:50)
-1 J.J. Caldwell (29:32)
-1 Makuach Maluach (19:11)
-3 Vance Jackson (23:01)

Box score

Here’s a copy of the box score handed out on press row after Saturday’s game…

And for those interested in the digital variety, CLICK HERE.

Postgame video: Weir, Lyle

Here is the postgame press conference with UNM’s Paul Weir and JaQuan Lyle, as posted to the Journal’s YouTube page:

Up next

• UNM hosts Grand Canyon, and former NMSU coach Marvin Menzies as assistant coach, to the Pit on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

• NMSU hosts Arkansas Pine Bluff on Wednesday in the Pan Am Center at 7 p.m.

“You don’t know Jack!”

He had a brief absence from calling New Mexico State games, but the Voice of the Aggies was back on Saturday in the Pit.

Welcome back, Jack. And, as he says himself in the final seconds of this 46-second video, “For those of you who thought that my absence might cause me to miss an Aggie/Lobo game, then you don’t know Jack.”

Another number to know: 38

The two teams combined for 38 turnovers on Saturday (22 for NMSU and 16 for UNM).

While UNM was worse early (10 turnovers in the first half, six in the second), NMSU got worse as the game went on (nine turnovers in the first half, 13 in the second).

“Obviously, our Achille’s Heel, turnovers, reared its ugly head,” said NMSU coach Chris Jans. “We had 13 in the second half after being disappointed with nine in the first half, but we didn’t realize it was going to be worse in the second half. It’s something that continues to bother us.”

Two of UNM’s biggest fans

Until next time…

Saturday marked the last time former Lobo guard Drue Drinnon will be in the Pit, he tweeted. The sophomore announced before the season started he would be entering the transfer portal. He completed his semester at UNM and will now head home to Georgia for the holidays.

I’ve not yet learned where he may be transferring to.

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