Six games into conference play and with the calendar showing mid-January isn’t exactly a usual time for a college basketball program to still be figuring out its roster.
But, as the boiler plate disclaimer this season goes, things are anything but usual for the UNM Lobo men’s basketball team lately. It’s a program that wasn’t able to use summer and fall months to break in its 12 new players and several new staff members with regular full-team workouts and since Nov. 20 has been relocated out of state to practice and play games without a gym of its own for regular workouts.
So, as the Lobos (4-6, 0-6 Mountain West) prepare for their two-game conference series this weekend at UNLV (2-6, 0-2), maybe it should come as no surprise the tinkering, shortening of the bench and adjustments of minutes for various players remains a work in progress.
But one thing that was clear in Wednesday night’s 72-63 Lobos win at Dixie State in St. George, Utah, is head coach Paul Weir is tightening the rotation and giving certain combinations of players longer stretches together on the floor as chemistry is starting to become apparent with different lineups.
“It’s just something we got to keep working through – kind of find the right sweet spot for each of those guys and just really our team in general,” Weir said when asked about the Jekyll and Hyde performances of his top two point guards while also trying to figure out the right combinations with other players.
“What’s going to put our team in the best position to win? We just got to keep watching film, making the best assessments we can and the best decisions we can.”
Sophomore point guard Jeremiah Francis played well off the bench for the Lobos but has shot poorly as a starter. Freshman point guard Isaiah Marin hasn’t hit a shot in his two games as a starter, but has been lights out as a backup (though he’s also averaging a foul every three to four minutes he’s on the court, so keeping him on the floor for offense isn’t always an option).
But Weir, oft criticized by fans for substituting too often and not allowing players to stay on the floor long enough to find a rhythm, did seem to find one combination that worked quite well against the Trailblazers and stuck with it for a much longer time than normal.
From 16:02 mark of the second half to the 10:24 mark, UNM stuck with a lineup of Marin at the point, guards Saquan Singleton and Javonte Johnson, forward Rod Brown and center Valdir Manuel.
In the 5-minute, 38-second stretch that combination was on the floor, the Lobos outscored DSU 16-2, scoring 1.9 points per possession, extending what was a 31-30 lead to 47-32, and coasting to a much-needed win from that point on.
In the stretch, the Lobos dished out three of their nine assists, had three of their 11 blocked shots for the game and Marin hit the team’s only two 3-pointers – all while UNM had ball movement rarely seen this season.
It was a mix of players the team wasn’t able to settle in on during the offseason or with usual preseason workouts, and the type of discovery Weir hopes the team keeps making.
ABOUT THOSE MINUTES: Through the first nine games, Weir played at least 11 players each game, played 15 or more five times and had just three players reach 30 minutes in a game (the MWC has 15 players averaging 30 or more).
Wednesday, the Lobos played just nine and had three players play 30 or more minutes.
HE SAID IT: “We’ve had a rough couple of two weeks and we knew we needed this one,” Maluach said after Wednesday’s win at Dixie State.