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Another league game, another blowout loss for Lobos

UNM Lobo center Bayron Matos jumps for the opening tip in the team’s game Saturday afternoon against UNLV in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev. (Courtesy UNM Athletics)

Wednesday’s impromptu Dixie diversion was nice, but the return to Mountain West reality on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas, Nev., served as a harsh reminder for the New Mexico Lobos.

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels wasted little time delivering that cruel reminder, jumping out to a 22-7 lead eight minutes into a game they never trailed, then coasting to a lopsided 77-54 win over the Lobos in a no-fans-in-attendance Thomas & Mack Center.

“It’s just our defense, to be honest,” said Lobo senior Makuach Maluach, who had a team-high 13 points.

“… If we can’t stop people in transition on defense, then you’re gonna have no chance. I just feel like we’ve got to come in and play defense, every game. And if we can stop people, then it doesn’t matter if we don’t score. If we stop people, and they don’t score, we’re going to be in a game.”

There wasn’t much stopping UNLV (3-6, 1-2 Mountain West) on Saturday as the Rebels shot better than 50% from the field, got a career high 20 points from center Cheikh Mbacke Diong on 9-of-11 shooting, 19 more from Bryce Hamilton and 18 off the bench from freshman Nick Blake, who sank four of the Rebels’ 10 3-pointers.

The Lobos (4-7, 0-7) were held to 33.3% shooting, including 16.7% from 3-point range, and were out-rebounded 36-31.

And while they get another shot at UNLV on Monday, for now, several dubious streaks continue to grow:

  • Longest losing streak (7) to start a conference season since the 1957-58 team went 0-14 in the Mountain States Athletic Conference;
  • Second longest conference losing streak in the Mountain West era behind Craig Neal’s 2014-15 Lobos, who dropped eight in a row, all in the month of February;
  • All seven league losses have been by double digits (an average of 25.1 points);
  • Lost the fifth in a row in the series with UNLV, longest since a seven game skid from 2002 to 2004,

Lobos coach Paul Weir said his team needs to figure out a way to muster the strength for a counter-punch when opposing teams have stretches of success.

“I think we’ve had some really good stretches of practice,” Weir said. “I felt we’ve had some really good stretches in games. I think unfortunately, finding aggressiveness in the midst of maybe not (having) success on the court is our issue. … We haven’t been able to show it when another team’s on a run.

“So we’ve just got to keep chipping away and hope at some point, we can build up our mental toughness to play through bad stretches.”

It might take some work, but Saturday the Lobos showed at least a few things the coaching staff may be able to highlight in a film session.

After the guard-oriented Rebels stretched the early lead to 22-7 in eight minutes, the Lobos did answer with a two-minute, 10-0 run that included freshman Javonte Johnson hitting two 3s.

Sophomore Emmanuel Kuac came back from being benched Wednesday at Dixie State to have eight high-energy minutes before a blow to the head ended his night.

There was decent execution out of timeouts, and free throws (17-of-23, 73.9%) continued to improve.

But there were also three shot-clock violations. The Lobos were 0-for-9 in second half from beyond the arc.

Poor transition defense helped UNLV score 20 points off 14 turnovers. UNM’s starting backcourt didn’t make a shot (though Saquan Singleton was 7-of-9 at the free throw line).

The ongoing struggles at point guard continue as the team’s starting point guard over the past six games (three starts apiece for Jeremiah Francis and Isaiah Marin) is a head-shaking 1-for-31 shooting (0-14 on 2-point shots, 1-17 on 3s).

“It’s frustrating and I get the scores. I get the losses,” Weir said. “There’s no quick solution to this. … We’ve got to find a way to keep working through it, keep trying to be the best we can be. I don’t have the magic recipe to make this all feel better to everybody. There’s nothing like that.”

BOX SCORE: UNLV 77, New Mexico 54

UP NEXT: Monday, UNM at UNLV, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM/96.3 FM


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