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Lobos must defend the 3 vs. Cowboys

New Mexico coach Paul Weir will lead his team against Wyoming on Wednesday at the Air Force Academy. The Lobos will be facing a Wyoming team that loves to put up 3-pointers.. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

How the UNM Lobos and Wyoming Cowboys – two teams both coming off COVID-19 related pauses in their schedule – ended up in Colorado Springs this week for a two-game Mountain West Conference series to be played at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Wednesday and Friday is a somewhat complicated story.

The math on what the series is likely going to boil down to is not.

The Cowboys (10-9, 4-8 Mountain West) have proven in the first season under head coach Jeff Linder to be a live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 sort of team – ranking 23rd in the country in reliance on the 3-pointer for scoring (39.0% of the team’s scoring all season comes from 3-pointers).

Shots inside the arc? Wyoming ranks 341st on percentage (41.8) of the team’s total points scored on 2-pointers.

“So far in Wyoming (game preparation), all we’ve discussed is we’ve got to, at the end of this game, tell ourselves we did our best at guarding the 3-point shot,” said UNM coach Paul Weir, whose team has been up and down on 3-point defense this season.

UNM (5-11, 1-11 MWC) has faced three other teams in the top 100 in terms of scoring reliance on 3-pointers this season:

• Rice, with a rating of 175, ranks No. 5 in the country in reliance on the 3-pointer for scoring and UNM beat the Owls on the road to open the season, 72-61.

• UNLV, with a KenPom rating of 147, ranks No. 11 and beat UNM twice – one blowout, one the Lobos had a chance in late

• San Jose State, with a KenPom rating of 321, ranks No. 90 and split two games with the Lobos.

Wyoming’s young roster, which boasts the leader in the clubhouse for Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 6-2 guard Marcus Williams (15.9 points and 4.2 assists per game), seems to be evolving into far more than just a team that relies on the long ball. But the stats also paint a pretty clear picture.

In four Mountain West wins, the Cowboys averaged 12.5 made 3-pointers and attempted 32.5 for an average clip of 38.5%.

In the team’s eight league losses, they hit 4.5 fewer 3s and convert at just 28.8%.

“Really, our last two opponents (Wyoming for two games, Air Force for two) are going to be reliant in order to beat us on taking and making 3s,” Weir said. “… With this game, it really starts and ends there.”

THE OTHER SCOUTING REPORT: While Wyoming shooting the 3 is UNM’s primary concern, the Cowboys’ scouting report is all about what happens after that shot is in the air.

“Where New Mexico is gonna beat you – it’s not about tricky plays or whatnot,” said Linder. “It’s about when that shot goes up, you better be ready to go rebound and then you better be able to get back in transition.

“The game doesn’t start until that shot’s up.”

CARMEN SAN DIEGO: While Wyoming has had its share of COVID-19 related issues itself – at this point in the season, who hasn’t? – Linder took time this week to acknowledge the special kind of struggle the Lobos have faced this season.

“I just I commend Paul and his staff and his kids for what they’ve had to endure,” Linder said. “I mean, I can only imagine, one, having to call my wife every single day from a different location – whether that’s in Lubbock, whether that’s in St. George, Utah, I mean just all the, all the different places like ‘Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?’ It’s like ‘Where in the World is Paul Weir?’ …

“I mean, to have four months of not being around your family and your kids, I just, don’t know how you really do it. I mean it’s just in a lot of ways, it’s not fair to them, and I’m sure they’re probably being judged on this year, which I don’t think is fair at all.”

IT’S BEEN A WHILE: The Lobos have missed four scheduled games (two vs. San Diego State, two vs. Colorado State) since they last played 18 days ago on Jan. 30 at Fresno State. The Cowboys have missed two games (vs. Utah State) since they last played 11 days ago.

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