That time Kuac killed the rim
There were a few dunks from Lobo sophomore Emmanuel Kuac on Monday night that reminded anyone who may have forgotten that, yeah, he can sort of jump a little bit.
The CBS Sports Network social media team was probably a little ahead of itself suggesting dunk of the year honors with this one, but still worth the look, no doubt…
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) February 23, 2021
Personally, I think this sequence — a 3-pointer then steal and breakaway dunk leading to an Air Force timeout in the span of 16 seconds — was even more impressive and one could argue sort of cemented the Lobos win (though there were still nearly 6 minutes to play, so plenty of defense after this point helped matters, too).
Back-to-back buckets for Emmanuel Kuac. First he nails the three and then grabs the steal and finishes with the dunk. He's got his Lobos up by seven with just under six to play.#GoLobos pic.twitter.com/rCnpD34dCg
— Lobo Basketball (@UNMLoboMBB) February 23, 2021
Of that sequence, Kuac said:
“I’ve always wanted to dunk it like that (in a game) for a long time,” Kuac said after the game. “I haven’t really had a chance to, so I used all my energy on that dunk and that just gave me the rest of the energy to take over.”
That he did, even if his final stat sheet doesn’t do justice to his impact on the outcome: 9 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 23 minutes of play. The plus-17 the Lobos outscored Air Force in his time on the court was more telling of his stamp on the game.
What both of those videos above show is Emmanuel Kuac, when on his game, has athleticism and energy unlike anyone else on the court most nights.
In fact, I think he’s shown all season he has an energy that I like to describe as creating chaos. The problem for a big part of the season was he was causing too much uncontrolled chaos — causing fouls, making mistakes and just generally playing too fast for his own good.
Of late, though, he’s been playing his best basketball of the season using all that energy and relentless defense to make opponents uncomfortable without hurting his team with mistakes.
“In the beginning of the season, I was kind of too energetic — I’d get a lot of fouls,” Kuac said. “I kind of took a step off the gas a little bit and started to use my head and play smart.”
I’m not sure I see any let up on the gas pedal, but he’s certainly controlling his energy much better now.
“My athleticism keeps me going,” he said. “I have a really good motor, so I just feel I have to give 95% — 100% … I just give it all every time I’m out there.”
He also noted later in his media session just how bad he and his teammates wanted to win this game for themselves, yes, but also for special assistant to the head coach Dave Pilipovich, who was fired as the Air Force head coach last March.
“We needed this one,” Kuac said. “Coach Dave used to coach here last year, so it felt good beating his old school. It felt really good, actually.
“I wanted to win the game so bad, you don’t even understand, I was shaking.”
— The Lair New Mexico (@thelairnm) February 23, 2021
And what does his head coach think about his play of late and why it is netting different results than before?
Here’s a long answer from Paul Weir when I asked about what has changed with Kuac lately:
“(He’s) probably still trying to figure himself out — figure his game out, and then me learning where to put him on the floor,” said Weir. “We’ve had him at the ‘4’, we’ve had him at the ‘3’, we’ve moved him around trying to find a good offensive role for him. That’s still evolving.
“He’s just kind of gone out and given us tremendous defensive energy these past couple of weeks and it couldn’t have come at a better time, you know? There’s different lulls throughout the season and I think we were kind of hitting one and someone’s got to carry us through it. Someone’s got to help us kind of keep pushing and I think his defense over the past couple of weeks, has been a great energizer for our whole basketball team.”
Here is the gamer I filed Monday night for the Journal with the lead being about a dinner they had at Pilipovich’s Colorado Springs home on Saturday night — the first team meal they’ve had outside a hotel meeting room all season:
The X factor
The team calls Valdir Manuel “X” and on Monday, “X” couldn’t miss:
• 14 points
• 7-of-7 shooting
That perfect shooting percentage is the third time this season a Lobo player shas done that in a game with a minimum of five shot attempts:
• 7-7 — Monday — Valdir Manuel, at Air Force
• 6-6 — Dec. 15 — Rod Brown, vs. NAIA Our Lady of the Lake
• 5-5 — Valdir Manuel — vs. NAIA Our Lady of the Lake
It ain’t over yet…
What’s coming up? First off, on Tuesday, the UNM women’s team gets back from their latest COVID-19 pause with a game at Air Force.
Wednesday, it’s a Lobos/Falcons, men’s game/women’s game doubleheader, both streamed online at TheMW.com/watch with the men starting at 4 p.m. and the women’s game scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
But that may not be all for the Lobo men before the Mountain West Tournament. I got word Monday night that the league on Tuesday should be announcing some makeup games coming up for teams around the league, including one game for the Lobos next week to go to Fort Collins to play one of the two games that were missed earlier this month against the Colorado State Rams.
Frankly, it’s a weird decision — risking any extra games played just weeks before conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament where a COVID-19 pause means a team is out. There is no holding the tournament up for teams with positive tests. So, some leagues are cutting back on tournaments and games now, but the Mountain West is making sure more games get played with a second-to-last place Lobos team that won’t help CSU get into the NCAA Tournament — win or lose.
The game may help determine seeding for the Rams in the MWC Tournament and could even play into whether they win the regular season title.
CSU remains the only original MWC member to never win a men’s hoops championship.
A number to know: 13
Air Force had just 13 defensive rebounds on Monday.
UNM knew it would have an advantage in the battle of the boards because of its size, but just 13 defensive rebounds for the Falcons? That was a season low for a UNM opponent.
Here are the fewest number of defensive rebounds for Lobo opponents this season:
• 13 — Monday — at Air Force (Lobos won, 73-65)
• 15 — Dec. 15 — vs. NAIA Our Lady of the Lake (Lobos won, 104-65)
• 20 — Dec. 13 — at Rice (Lobos won, 72-61)
• 20 — Jan. 23 — vs. San Jose State (Lobos lost, 83-71)
And a quick check on Lobo opponents grabbing 13 or fewer rebounds against UNM in the past decade (back to 2010-11 season) shows Monday was just the fifth time it happened, per Sports-Reference.com:
• 10 — Dec. 17, 2016 — vs. Ark.-Pine Bluff (Lobos won, 83-43)
• 12 — Dec. 17, 2019 — vs. Grand Canyon (Lobos won, 81-71)
• 12 — Dec. 22, 2010 — vs. Colorado (Lobos won, 89-76)
• 13 — Nov. 18, 2015 — vs. Loyola-Chicago (Lobos won, 75-51)
• 13 — Monday — at Air Force (Lobos won, 73-65)
As for offensive boards, not usually an Air Force strong point, they tied a season high with nine of them and scored 10 second chance points. UNM edged them by just one — 11 second chance points off 10 offensive rebounds.
A number to know: 13 (again)
OK. Same number (13) but for an individual, not an entire team.
Lobos starting point guard Saquan Singleton had 13 assists (and only one turnover) on Monday. That’s crazy good for a primary point guard, even against a bad Air Force team.
The 13 assists ties for 10th best in a Lobo game all-time (tied with six other players who had 13 in a game).
“We’ve got one of the best point guards in our league — Saquan Singleton,” said Lobos freshman center Bayron Matos. “He knows how to to deliver the ball. He knows how to get the ball to his teammates and put it in the right spot.”
Saquan earlier this year had an 11 assist, 1 turnover game, but that came in the still head-scratcher of a loss to San Jose State on Jan. 23.
Also of note was Jeremiah Francis also played plenty of point on Monday and had eight points, four assists and no turnovers.
(NOTE: The Lobos record for assists in a game is 21 from the late Kelvin Scarborough in a Feb. 13, 1987, game against Hawaii.)
With his bucket with 16:11 left in the game, Maluach scored his 9th and 10th points of the game, giving him career points 1,239 and 1,240. That pushed him past fellow Aussie Cameron Bairstow (1,239) into No. 21 on UNM’s all-time scoring list.
By game’s end, his 22 points pushed him into the top 20 with 1,252 points, also passing on Monday night Marvin “Automatic” Johnson (1,246).
Here’s where Makuach ranks now on the all-time scoring list for the Lobos (with No. 17 being what I’m guessing will be his ceiling for the season):
17. Francis Grant (1959-1962) 1,282
18. Elijah Brown (2015-2017) 1,276
19. Tony Danridge (2004-2009) 1,260
20. Makuach Maluach (2017-present) 1,252
21. Marvin Johnson (1976-1978) 1,246
22. Cameron Bairstow (2010-2014) 1,239
As for Monday, there were a couple “exclamation point” moments, but since we’re in the Makuach Maluach section of Emptying the Notebook, and since Dave Ryan on the CBS Sports Network call of the game called this one the “exclamation point” moments, let’s go with this one…
— Lobo Basketball (@UNMLoboMBB) February 23, 2021
A happy miss
The win on Monday for the Lobos snapped a five-game skid and also means UNM will miss out on going 0-for-February.
The 2014-15 Lobos were winless in the entire calendar month of February when Craig Neal’s second season buck lost eight-consecutive February games, going from a 6-3 league record to 6-11 heading into March.
Meanwhile, from the league…
The Mountain West on Monday announced there will be no fans in attendance for the men’s and women’s Mountain West basketball tournament this season.
Also, I found another use for one of the empty arena pics I’ve taken around this league for the past decade.
Mountain West makes official today there will be no fans allowed in the Thomas & Mack Center for this year’s conference hoops tournaments (women’s tourney March 7-10; men’s tourney March 10-13).
Bracket format, for now, remains the same. pic.twitter.com/rPR1JypTiz
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) February 22, 2021
To read the league’s news release, CLICK HERE.
Around the Mountain
There was just one game played (and one postponed) around the Mountain West on Monday with two more coming on Wednesday as the regular season winds down:
• New Mexico 73, Air Force 65
• POSTPONED: Colorado State at Nevada
• No games scheduled
• New Mexico at Air Force, 4 p.m. MT (TheMW.com)
• Fresno State at UNLV, 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m MT (FS1)
San Diego State was the lone Mountain West team ranked in Monday’s new AP Top 25 poll, appearing on 50 of 64 voter ballots with a high vote of No. 16 by two voters.
Boise State received five points, appearing on three ballots — two No. 24 votes and one No. 25.
MW Player of the Week
With the rare Monday game on the slate for the Lobos, that means a rare Mountain West Player of the Week update for ETN (the award is released each Monday).
Boise State senior Derrick Alston, Jr., is this week’s Player of the Week after leading the Broncos to a home sweep of Utah State last week, averaging 24.5 points and pushing Boise State to the top of the league standings ahead of this week’s huge series at San Diego State.
🐴 Helped Boise State sweep the two-game series against Utah State
🐴 Averaged 24.5 points, 2.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds
🐴 Connected on 47.1% from the field and 46.2% from the 3-point line#AtThePeak | #BleedBlue pic.twitter.com/7l87AhNi1d
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) February 22, 2021
Here are the plus/minus numbers from Monday’s game at Air Force with minutes played in parenthesis:
+17 Emmanuel Kuac (22:56)
+17 Isaiah Marin (18:51)
+9 Saquan Singleton (33:04)
+8 Valdir Manuel (16:42)
+6 Jeremiah Francis (20:14)
0 Javonte Johnson (4:35)
-2 Bayron Matos (22:29)
-3 Kurt Wegscheider (2:29)
-5 Makuach Maluach (30:47)
-7 Rod Brown (17:53)
Stats and stats
Here is a link to the digital version of Monday’s stats: New Mexico 73, Air Force 65
And here is a link to the more traditional looking stat page: New Mexico 73, Air Force 65
Maybe I should copy of my daughter’s home work more often.
The Guesses got one right on Monday, picking the Lobos getting a point and a half and they won outright by seven. So the Grammer’s Guesses are 39-43-1 on the season.
My daughter’s coin flip pick for the night also had the Lobos, so she’s back to where a coin flip should be — right at .500 with a 41-41-1 record this season.
Grammer's Guesses for tonight's lone Mountain West hoops game (a pathetic 38-43-1):
• New Mexico +1.5
My daughter's #TeamCoin coin flip pick (40-41-1):
• New Mexico +1.5
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) February 23, 2021