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Lobos get their first shot at Alford, Neal

Nevada head coach Steve Alford walks off the court at the end of the first half against Saint Mary’s on Dec. 21, 2019, in San Francisco. on Saturday, he faces the New Mexico Lobos for the first time since he won 155 games as their head coach. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

RENO, Nev. – Steve Alford said it will be just another game in the Lawlor Events Center on Saturday afternoon.

Of course, it won’t be.

The 29-year coaching veteran, who in his first season coaching the Nevada Wolf Pack goes for career coaching victory No. 600 on Saturday evening against a UNM Lobos program he accumulated more of those wins with than any other team, wasn’t exactly convincing when media asked him this week if the milestone would be one he spent much time to reflect on.

“No, because, one, they all run together,” he said, before reflecting on his past stops and coaching milestones.

“… I think 500 was at UCLA and I got both sons there. I got a wonderful staff. Then you start thinking when was 400? When was 300? The irony to that is it’s Missouri State (win 100). It’s Iowa (wins 200 and 300). It’s New Mexico (win 400). So, you start hitting all the places you’ve been and it gives you great memories of just how blessed you were of all the areas and places you’ve been. You’re very appreciative of all the players you’ve coached and the coaches that you’ve coached with. But that’s not anywhere on my mind.”

Alford’s Wolf Pack (12-8, 5-3 Mountain West) is an 8½-point favorite over the short-handed Lobos (16-5, 5-3), who played their last game with just eight scholarship players and missing four of the players who started the first dozen games of the season.

And while on the court the focus will likely be on things like the Pack being more reliant on the 3-point shot than any Alford coached team ever (39.1 percent of Nevada’s points come from 3-pointers, 20th highest in the nation) vs. UNM’s defensive weakness defending the 3, this game will clearly have a good amount of focus from Lobo fans on the sidelines, too.

Not only did Lobos coach Paul Weir coach for Alford for two seasons at Iowa before becoming an assistant coach at New Mexico State more than a decade ago, two members of Weir’s staff – Brandon Mason and Craig Snow – were also on Alford’s staffs at UNM.

And if not for the location, a glance at the Nevada bench might bring plenty of Lobo flashbacks as his assistant head coach is Craig Neal (yes, the past three Lobo head coaches will be a part of Saturday’s game) and on his support staff is son Kory Alford, a former Lobo walk-on, graduate assistant Roman Martinez, a former Lobo star, and graduate assistant Nate Strong, a longtime Alford family friend from Albuquerque who was also briefly a team manager under Weir.

“I think Steve and Craig did a ton for Lobo basketball and set the bar incredibly high for our team, for me, for everybody here going forward, and I have really but nothing but positive things to say about both of them and what they’ve done for Lobo basketball,” Weir said.

Then Weir added that at least for the players, the game is pretty much just about the game.

“Nobody on our team knows who either of them are,” Weir said. “No one on their team was there when they were here. It’s just a little different. I think as time goes on, it becomes about fans.”

LYLE: Weir has not given a direct answer on the status for Saturday’s game for JaQuan Lyle or Vance Jackson, both nursing left knee injuries, but it seems unlikely either will play.

But Weir did say this on Lyle’s Thursday MRI, through a team spokesperson: “Jaquan’s MRI was clear of any serious injury. He will continue his recovery and hopefully join us on the court again in the near future.”

The Journal asked it that definitively meant Lyle is out for Nevada, and UNM would not elaborate on the statement.

MATOS: He’s no longer Lobo recruit Bayron Matos. The 6-foot-9 forward from the Dominican Republic who played until December at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has been admitted to UNM and cleared by the NCAA to join the Lobos.

His basketball club in the Dominican Republic on Friday posted on social media that Matos is expected to start classes on Monday.

Weir has said there have been no decisions on when Matos will start practicing or if he will play this season.

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