UNM Men Open League Play Against Cowboys in Laramie
LARAMIE, Wyo. – We’re just about three weeks into winter, but it’s already time for a change of season.
One that will be very joyful to some, and very miserable to others.
It is the season – finally – for Mountain West Conference hoops.
Because of the ever-changing conference realignment, which included the MWC’s loss of two teams (BYU and Utah) and addition of just one (Boise State), the league had to remake schedules and became one of the nation’s last to open conference play.
“I’ve heard a lot about how good this conference is,” says New Mexico sophomore guard Demetrius Walker, an Arizona State transfer who makes his MWC debut here this afternoon when the Lobos visit Wyoming. “Every night is a dogfight, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The shortened conference schedules, now 14 games instead of 16, allowed the MWC brethren to beef up nonconference records.
The Lobos (14-2) and Cowboys (14-2) are prime examples. Neither beat a ranked opponent, leaving both with some question marks heading into what UNM coach Steve Alford calls the second of four yearly seasons.
“It’s hard for 19- to 22-year-olds to concentrate (on a full season),” says Alford, who considers the MWC tournament and any postseason tournament as separate seasons.
“Instead of going through a season that goes from November all the way through the end of March, you break it up into four seasons. Season 1 is over; we did a heck of a job. (We’re) extremely pleased as coaches and very appreciative of what kind of effort we got on both ends (offense and defense).
“We improved in Season 1, and now we wipe out Season 1 and we start again.”
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, in his first year back with the Cowboys – he was also their head coach in the 1997-98 season – has a different seasonal philosophy and is eager to make his Mountain West debut.
“The conference season is attached to the nonconference season, so it’s one long year,” says Shyatt, who was also a head coach at Clemson and spent the past seven years as an assistant at Florida.
“…It’s a continuation. You get what you’ve earned. So I’m delighted to see that a lot of the opponents (nationwide), in terms of criticizing this league, are finally waking up and finding out this is great basketball.”
The Cowboys have played some great basketball on the Front Range, where they are 11-0.
They traditionally cause the Lobos fits up here, having won a 67-66 shocker last year. Post Adam Waddell came off the bench to ignite the Cowboys comeback with 16 points and eight rebounds, while guard Francisco “Paco” Cruz capped it with a last-second jumper. Cruz’s shot followed two Wyoming offensive rebounds in the frantic final possession.
“This team is a lot more focused at this point in the season than we were last year,” says UNM senior post Drew Gordon. “We remember it well, that last-second shot. It was a long bus ride home.”
Waddell and former Lobos recruit Leonard Washington make a strong inside pair this season, while Cruz and Luke Martinez are averaging more than 25 points combined.
Meanwhile, point guard JayDee Luster has been among the nation’s leaders in assist/turnover ratio (3.6-to-1) all season.
Wyoming’s upset of the Lobos last year was its only win in its first 10 league games, leading to the firing of coach Heath Schroyer in the middle of the conference season. The tight contest, however, was not unusual between these teams in these parts. Alford’s Lobos had won by scores of 70-68, 74-73 and 99-92 in double overtime in his first three trips to Laramie.
HOPEFUL HUGH: Lobos freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood, who missed the team’s last game with a high-ankle sprain, says he thinks he will be ready today.