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‘The Rip,’ not the Pit, chosen as Lobos’ lair

Guard Keith McGee and his Lobo teammates appear to have found their home away from home: The Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas. (ROBERTO E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)

Rip Griffin, you’re up.

In the seemingly endless buildup to the 2020-21 college basketball season for the UNM Lobo men’s basketball team, it appears a game is finally on the horizon.

That horizon would be to the east, and more specifically in a game as early as Sunday at Lubbock Christian University’s Rip Griffin Center, where the Lobos are hoping to “host” two games next week — a non-Division I opponent as early as Sunday and at least one Division I opponent later in the week.

And the Lobos have asked the Mountain West offices if Lubbock Christian can be their official “home away from home” for the 2020-21 season, according to Deputy Athletic Director Dave Williams. For now, the Lobos can’t practice or play in the Pit as New Mexico’s public health order prohibits it due to coronavirus concerns in the state. It is unclear when the MWC might give a final approval of the temporary home for the Lobos.

The Lobos are home in Albuquerque this week for final exams week and are required to be on a 14-day travel quarantine after returning from practicing in Texas. They plan to continue practicing and playing in West Texas this season, primarily using facilities at South Plains (Junior) College in Levelland, Texas, about a half hour west of Lubbock, for practices and for games at LCU.

So far, the Lobos’ only scheduled games are the 20 set up by the Mountain West Conference, which allocated 10 road games and 10 home games for every team. The first of those games is a two-game road series at Boise State on Dec. 21 and 23, the Dec. 21 game to be broadcast on FS1.

Lubbock Christian, which the Lobos scrimmaged a week ago but did so in a closed-door session and have chosen not to reveal the details of what happened, is a Division II member of the Lone Star Conference.

The Rip Griffin Center is a 1,950-seat capacity arena that serves as home to the Chaparrals’ men’s and women’s basketball teams — the latter serving as the still reigning D-II national champion after winning the crown in 2019 (the 2020 D-II tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19).

MEANWHILE, IN ARIZONA: Last week’s positive COVID-19 test for somebody on New Mexico State’s Tier 1 travel party (players, coaches and trainers with direct contact) brought an end to two road games in California and has cost the Aggies this Saturday’s scheduled game at Arizona.

The Wildcats replaced NMSU with UTEP, making that news public moments prior to NMSU coach Chris Jans holding his weekly video conference with reporters. Arizona had already moved on before a round of subsequent tests came back positive for the same individual, and nobody else in the program, leaving open a sliver of hope the Aggies could have resumed playing by Saturday. Still, Jans had no problem with the Wildcats’ decision.

“If I’m Arizona, you know, I want to play Saturday,” Jans said. “So, I mean, to sit around and wait for us to figure out where we’re at and what our test results are puts them in a tough situation. If I’m the other end of the spectrum, if you will, on a game coming up with a team that had a positive, I’m moving forward and figuring out who I can play rather than sit around and wait.”

RIVALRY: The UNM-NMSU rivalry games have still not been scheduled, though NMSU has maintained it very much still wants to play the series, even if it was just one neutral-court game somewhere instead of the traditional home-and- home series in the Pit and Pan American Center.

POLL POSITION: The San Diego State Aztecs checked in at No. 24 in Monday’s latest Associated Press Top 25, the only Mountain West team to receive any votes among the 61 voters this year.

At 4-0, all at home, SDSU got a high ranking of No. 17 from Bay Area News Group reporter Jon Wilner while 27 voters left the Aztecs unranked.

MWC PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Wyoming sophomore guard Kenny Foster, who missed the Cowboys’ first two games this season due to COVID-19 protocols, averaged 20 points and hit 6-of-8 (75%) of his 3-point shots in wins at home over Incarnate Word and at Oregon State en route to being named the MWC Player of the Week. He’s the first Wyoming player so honored since Justin James did so in January 2018.

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