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Emptying the Notebook: Lobos roll at Pit West despite starter struggles

Thomas & Mack Center on March 4, 2020. (Geoff Grammer/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Here are some extra notes, quotes, tweets, videos, stats and whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook from the Lobos 79-66 win over San Jose State in the Mountain West Tournament:

The struggles of the starters

Barring discipline or other circumstances, the go-to starting lineup of late for the Lobos has been Zane Martin, JaQuan Lyle, Makuach Maluach, Vance Jackson and Corey Manigault.

The problem is, as Lobos coach Paul Weir pointed out again on Wednesday night, that while in different scenarios those are probably the Lobos five best players, that combination of five players together on the court hasn’t actually been all that successful.

And while it certainly hasn’t been Zane Martin as the only cause of the issues with that starting five, it was when UNM coach Paul Weir subbed freshman guard Kurt Wegscheider for Martin early in both halves that poor Lobos play turned into huge scoring runs.

“I don’t know what to do with that starting five,” Weir said Wednesday, sort of an illuminating answer considering the team’s struggles over the past two moths while having to shift lineups so regularly.

“I told them that many times. They did not start the first half well or the second half. We bring in Kurt and the game changes both halves. I challenged those guys at halftime and said you guys are backing me into a spot here; you’re our oldest, most experienced guys, but they’re not a good group together.”

Wednesday, UNM fell behind 8-4 until the 16:10 foul of JaQuan Lyle that led to Wegscheider checking in the game for Martin. Lyle made both free throws (Wegscheider was in the game, but really had nothing to do with those two points).

That 8-4 SJSU lead turned to a 21-0 UNM run from that point. There were other substitutions in that span for other starters, and Martin checked back in just three minutes later and missed only about half the scoring run.

In the second half, when the Lobos led at the break 45-29, a 7-0 San Jose State scoring run on the Lobos starters, who had five turnovers in their first eight possessions of the half, was stopped again when Weir inserted Wegscheider into the game. When he did, things changed just enough for Jackson to go on his crazy run of 14-straight UNM points in a 4 minute, 9 second spurt that essentially put the game out of reach.

“When Vance started making those shots is when Kurt subbed in the game. And Kurt, both times he subbed in, was very impactful for us — he was plus 22 tonight. So he helps. He brings defensive energy. He’s a ball mover on offense. He’s just going out trying to make the right play. And we need more guys like that sometimes in that lineup.”

Wegscheider had a plus-22 in his 26 minutes played (meaning UNM’s scoring margin increased by 22 points in the time he was on the court). That was the largest of any player in any three of Wednesday’s MWC Tournament games.

It’s probably worth noting that a couple weeks ago, many people listened to Weir’s postgame remarks with a skeptical ear after a 74-61 loss at Boise State. Weir said that inserting Wegscheider into the starting lineup for the first time this season for that game and playing walk-on Jordan Arroyo more than 20 minutes while benching more experienced players was not a sign of giving up on this season and testing out young players for next season, but rather an indication that the team had tried long enough with that regular group of veteran starters and things simply weren’t working.

“We’ve ridden this lineup for a long time and this group of guys and we haven’t been able to get over the hump with them,” Weir said on Feb. 23 in Idaho. “Injecting some new energy, some new blood, I’m hoping will just give us a different mix and a better team.”

The gamer

Here is the gamer I filed after Wednesday’s game in the Thomas & Mack Center media room…

The sweater

Wednesday’s win was the fourth in the Mountain West Tournament for Paul Weir in this, his third season. Yes, two were in opening-round games, but UNM had been 0-2 in the MWC play-in/opening round of the conference tournament before Weir’s time.

Weir is now 4-2 in the MWC Tournament, moving into second place for Lobo coaches in the 21-year history of the league.

• 8-4 Steve Alford (six tournaments; started 2-4, then went 6-0 in final two seasons)
• 4-2 Paul Weir (2-1 first season, 1-1 last season, 1-0 and counting this season)
• 3-3 Craig Neal (3-0 in first season, 0-3 in final three seasons)
• 3-4 Ritchie McKay (Won 2005 MWC Tournament, was 0-4 in other four seasons)
• 2-3 Fran Fraschilla (Made 2001 championship game, was 0-2 in other two seasons)

Play-in round records:
• Weir 2-0
• Neal 0-1
• McKay 0-1

For those noticing a trend, while the Lobos have a reputation of being so dangerous in the MWC Tournament, the program was 9-0 in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and just 11-16 (that includes Wednesday’s win) in the other 18 seasons of the tournament, including 11 one-and-done trips the the tournament.

Weir is the only Lobos coach in the Mountain West era to not have a one-and done trip to the tournament. All other Lobo coaches had at least two of them, including Alford’s first two seasons as head coach.

He said it: Part 1

“Vegas Vance? I like it.”
— San Jose State coach Jean Prioleau responding to a question that referenced Lobo fans calling Vance Jackson ‘Vegas Vance’

A number (or two) to know: 24 and 21

San Jose State scored 24 points off 21 Lobo turnovers.

That’s not good for the Lobos.

The first, and most obvious benefit of a turnover is as a defense, it means you accomplished the ultimate goal and ended a possession without giving up a score.

Second, it often gives a team a good opportunity to score because a lot, though certainly not all, turnovers come in live action settings where play doesn’t stop and the team that turned the ball over is caught in poor defensive position when the change of possession occurs.

Wednesday, the Spartans scored 24 of their 66 points in the immediate possession following the turnover.

UNM has allowed an opposing team to score 20 or more points off turnovers in 13 of the team’s 32 games. The Lobos have a 6-7 record in those games.

Before Wednesday, the Lobos had lost the previous five games in which they allowed an opposing teams to get at least 20 of their points off turnovers, including the Spartans upset of UNM on Jan. 1 at the SJSU Event Center.

Here are the past six times a Lobo opponent scored at least 20 points off turnovers.

• Jan. 1, LOSS at SJSU: Spartans score 29 points off 18 Lobo turnovers
• Jan. 15, LOSS at Colorado State: Rams score 20 points off 22 Lobo turnovers
• Feb. 15, LOSS vs. UNLV: Rebels score 21 turnovers off just 13 Lobo turnovers
• Feb. 18, LOSS vs. Nevada: Wolf Pack had 20 points off 11 Lobo turnovers
• Feb. 23, LOSS at Boise State: Broncos scored 29 points off 18 Lobo turnovers
• Saturday, WIN vs No. 10 SJSU: The Spartans scored 24 points off 21 Lobo turnovers

This is March

Some know him as Cowboy Ken. Others refer to him as Barrel Man.

For me, just know March Madness has begun when I see him by the Wyoming band each season at this time standing the entire game (not sure what else he could do) and cheering on his Cowboys.

Attendance

The announced attendance in the Thomas & Mack Center for Wednesday’s first round games: 5,198

The largest contingent of fans, as usual, was the Lobos.

They do, after all, call it Pit West.

And don’t worry, more are on the way. In addition to the usual reinforcements booking those direct morning Southwest flights on Thursday to Las Vegas, others hit the road from Albuquerque on Wednesday…

He said it: Part 2

Speaking of having those Lobo fans in the arena for a neutral court game in Las Vegas…

“It feels amazing. We have the best fans; it’s like a home court game for us. I think they call it the Pit West. It feels good. Just staying positive and just keep going. They like winning, and they like shows. So, we’re going to do that for them.”

— UNM junior Vance Jackson on Lobo fans helping the team in tournament games

Meanwhile, in that 11/6 game…

For the first time in Mountain West history, an 11 seed won a game.

Well, to be clear, it’s been an 11-team league just since the 2013-14 season, and one of the past seven seasons didn’t feature all 11 teams in the conference tournament. So for the first time in six tries, a Mountain West No. 11 seed won a tournament game.

Still impressive for the Wyoming Cowboys.

Around the Mountain

There were three games around the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday, with two lower seeded teams picking up wins and advancing to the quarterfinals:

• No. 9 Air Force 77, No. 8 Fresno State 70
• No. 7 New Mexico 79, San Jose State 66
• No. 11 Wyoming 80, No. 6 Colorado State 74

Thursday’s schedule

Here’s Thursday’s Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals schedule (all quarterfinal games televised on CBS Sports Network):

• No. 9 Air Force vs. No. 1 San Diego State, 11:30 PT/12:30 MT
• No. 5 Boise State vs. No 4 UNLV, 2 PT/3 MT

• No. 7 New Mexico vs. No. 2 Utah State, 6 PT/7 MT
• No. 11 Wyoming vs. No. 3 Nevada, 8:30 PT/9:30 MT

Meanwhile, in the women’s tourney

For the fourth consecutive season, the Boise State Broncos are your Mountain West women’s basketball tournament champion. The No. 2 seeded Broncos knocked off No. 1 Fresno State in overtime.

How ’bout them Fly Boys?

Air Force advanced to the MWC quarterfinals in back to back seasons for the first time since the 2014 expansion of the league to 11 teams, which expanded the play-in/opening round of the tournament.

How’d they do it? The Falcons outscored Fresno State 30-10 in points in the paint and made 21 2-point baskets to just 7 2-point baskets made by Fresno State.

Yes, the Bulldogs hit 16 3-pointers, and did so on a high percentage, it’s just hard to win a game getting so little of your scoring from around the rim, which for a Fresno State team with Nate Grimes and Orlando Robinson in the post was rather surprising.

But what about the Aztecs?

Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich was asked after his team’s win on Wednesday what he needs to say to his players to get them motivated to play against No. 5 San Diego State in Thursday’s quarterfinals…

Another number to know: 8

Though it wasn’t mentioned in the postgame notes package put out by the league or in either team’s write up after the game, San Jose State’s Omari Moore had eight steals against the Lobos. That’s a Mountain West Tournament record.

The previous record of seven was set by Air Force’s Tim Anderson in a 2008 tournament game against San Diego State.

Pregame pep rally

A couple hours before Wednesday’s game, outside the Lobos’ team hotel, there was a pep rally/send off…

Plus/minus

Here are the Lobos’ plus/minus stats from Wednesday’s game with minutes played in parenthesis:

+22 Kurt Wegscheider (26:03)
+16 Corey Manigault (25:35)
+12 Makuach Maluach (32:18)
+8 JaQuan Lyle (34:51)
+6 Vance Jackson (34:41)
+6 Vante Hendrix (11:07)
-2 Zane Martine (21:21)
-3 Keith McGee (14:04)

Plus/minus for all

Six players had double digit “plus” stats for Wednesday’s opening round of the Mountain West Tournament.

+22 Kurt Wegscheider, New Mexico
+18 Hunter Maldonado, Wyoming
+16 Corey Manigault, New Mexico
+12 Makuach Maluach, New Mexico
+12 Sid Tomes, Air Force
+10 A.J. Walker, Air Force

Video: Weir, Jackson, Maluach

Here is the video I posted of the postgame interview with Paul Weir, Vance Jackson and Makuach Maluach after the game. Unfortunately, there were issues with my tripod not tilting back likes it’s supposed to so I had to hold it tilted back, and also I was recording my video next to a MWC cameraman recording the presser for the conference’s online stream who didn’t seem to mind sniffing throughout the entire presser. My apologies for that. I will not record near that guy again.

Box score

Here’s the postgame box score handed out on media row…

And if you prefer the digital version, CLICK HERE.

I’ve got spirit, yes I do

At halftime of the women’s Mountain West championship game Wednesday night, all 11 MWC schools had partial cheer/dance/spirit squads and mascots perform for the annual all-school’s halftime show at the women’s title game.

Here’s about a minute of the Lobos’ part of the show:

It’s March. Lobo fans find a way

However you followed Wednesday game, I bet it wasn’t like this…

Grammer’s Guesses

The regular season is over and I owe my 10-year-old daughter an offseason trip to Las Vegas because, yes, that is what this responsible dad bet his 10-year-old daughter before the season of picking Mountain West games. Her coin flips beat me, and now it’s time to bring her to Sin City and see if we can make some money together with her lucky coin flipping magic.

But forget the regular season, I show up in March.

The Guesses went a perfect 3-0 on Wednesday, picking correctly all three games against the point spread.

Until next time…

I can’t do an empty arena pick every night of the tournament, so tonight, I stuck to a parking lot shot of the Thomas & Mack Center after a day of hoops coverage.

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