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Lobos men’s, women’s basketball relocates to Texas to prepare for season

The Aggies went west to Arizona.

The Lobos will be heading east to Texas.

College basketball for the New Mexico’s two storied men’s basketball programs will go forward for the 2020-21 season, which can begin next Wednesday. But, due to the current public health order that prohibits practices or games, it won’t be in the Lobos’ home state.

University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez made official on Wednesday afternoon that the Lobo men’s basketball team will be practicing and preparing at a yet-to-be-announced west Texas junior college facility, A contract hadn’t been finalized late Wednesday, so he wouldn’t say which school. The team, nonetheless, plans to stay in Lubbock this weekend.

The Lobo women’s team will prep for their season in Canyon, Texas, and share facilities with Division II West Texas A&M University.

“There’s a lot of questions out there. Absolutely,” Nuñez said. “I do see what’s happening around the country. I do see the spikes in the canceled games here and there. We’re not oblivious to it. But we also see the ability that schools are having to be successful with it, too. As long as we’re doing what we’re capable of doing from the health and safety side — (that’s) first and foremost — then we’re going to continue down this path.

“At some point, it might not be (safe), and we understand that and we’re ready at that point to pivot and make a decision and figure out what the next step would be.”

NMSU made its relocation news known on Tuesday, heading to Phoenix.

Wednesday saw another record high in COVID-19 cases reported by the New Mexico Department of Health (2,897) along with 26 new deaths, all while hospitalizations continue to increase.

In the sports world, college football games continue to be postponed or canceled, with two cancellations in the Mountain West alone announced on Wednesday. But, with a basketball season approaching and his overseeing two teams that haven’t yet had regular practices to prepare for the season, Nuñez said that after reaching out to UNM’s health officials and colleagues across the country, he made the decision to proceed with confidence.

UNM Athletics’ positivity rate for coronavirus has been significantly lower than state COVID-19 numbers since testing began in June. The teams won’t leave Friday until a new round of tests from Wednesday are returned and reviewed.

Nuñez said the deals in place to use facilities and for lodging at nearby hotels are “week to week,” allowing both teams to get out of their situations quickly if they have a spike in cases, health restrictions in New Mexico are altered, or if a better out-of-state scenario presents itself.

UNM will continue three-times a week PCR testing for the two teams. Costs, at this point, were not made available, but have been requested by the Journal.

Nuñez said both teams might go without any non-conference games (neither has any scheduled). Playing lower-level teams in Texas is an option, as is the Lobo women’s team possibly “hosting” New Mexico State after the Aggie women, now practicing in Tucson, play UTEP in the next two weeks. Nuñez said more help in the form of flexibility from the MWC and conference opponents could come in January and February to make sure those games are played.

Nuñez, who has already gone forward with relocating the Lobo football team to Nevada to play its season, noting from a financial standpoint that the Mountain West TV contract that covers men’s basketball and football pays out $3 million if they play, not to mention other conference payouts contingent on them playing.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman from the Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made clear, as the office has done in the past, that while they may not have jurisdiction to enforce public health order restrictions out of the state, they not only think UNM and NMSU should not relocate, but that more universities across the country are making a mistake in going forward with football and college basketball.

AGGIE MEN: The Aggie men, who relocated Tuesday to Phoenix’s Arizona Grand Resort & Spa at a coast of what the school said should be just under $100,000 for a five week stay, had a minor hiccup on Day 1 on Wednesday. The court that was supposed to be ready for them in the hotel ball room, wasn’t ready by the time of their first scheduled practice.

But even with that, Aggies coach Chris Jans was hardly in any mood to seek sympathy when a TV reporter asked him about all the challenges facing his program right now.

“Come on, man,” Jans said. “There’s a lot of worse things going on out there than what we’re dealing with. We’re excited. … We’re grateful.”

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