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Lobo Snell Comes Out of that Shell

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Finding a precise turning point in a 20-point blowout is sort of like identifying the key drop of rain in a deluge.
But Saturday, after his Runnin’ Rebels’ 65-45 loss to the New Mexico Lobos in the Pit, UNLV men’s basketball coach Dave Rice talked about a sequence that took place midway through the second half.
With the score tied 36-36, Lobos post Drew Gordon scored two of his game-high 27 on a spin-move in the lane. After a missed 3-pointer by UNLV’s Reggie Smith, Gordon pulled down one of his game-high 20 rebounds.
Ten seconds later, the Lobos’ Demetrius Walker hit a 3 to put the Lobos up by five. Rice called timeout, hoping to put a cap on UNM’s momentum.
Instead, it was the Lobos who benefited. After a traveling call against UNLV center Brice Massamba, UNM sophomore Tony Snell got free on a designed play and drilled a 3-pointer. The rout was on, even if the Rebels didn’t know it at the time.
Wait a minute. Snell, you say? Tony Snell? The suddenly tentative, 6-foot-7 sophomore guard who’d scored exactly three points in the Lobos’ last two games? The guy who didn’t take a shot against Wyoming in 23 minutes? The kid who went 1-for-6 at San Diego State?
Yes, that guy. And he wasn’t done demonstrating his return to form.
Shortly after his 3-pointer, following a turnover by the Rebels’ Mike Moser, Snell drove the baseline and slammed home a dunk that gave the Lobos their first-double digit lead.
Without question, Gordon and his 27-and-20 performance was the lead story afterward. But Snell and his slump-busting 12 points, game-high five assists and no turnovers make for a satisfying sidebar.
“It was a big-time win,” Snell said of the victory that evened a score with the Rebels and gave the Lobos (22-4, 8-2) a two-game cushion in the Mountain West Conference race. “We owed ’em one, because they blew us out (in Las Vegas), so we had to come back here and give ’em one, too.”
As for his performance, Snell credited a sometimes-deafening capacity Pit crowd of 15,411.
“I felt great,” he said. “I had a lot of energy.”
Regarding Snell’s puzzling slump, Lobos coach Steve Alford had taken a positive approach. He could afford to do so, since UNM had won the two games in question.
“It was just trying to encourage him,” Alford said. “He’s a fierce competitor. He’s young; he’s a sophomore on a very good basketball team who had a couple of tough games.
“You’ve got to be able to deal with that, so the coaches have just tried to tell him how much we believe in him.”
Exhibit A was Snell’s continuing role as starter. Slump or no slump, he made his 27th consecutive start on Saturday.
Exhibit D, as in dunk, was his driving slam late in the first half.
Snell already had broken the ice, or at least chipped at it, with a pair of free throws off an aggressive move at the 14:22 mark of the first half — drawing a huge cheer from the crowd.
With 4:27 left, he came off a screen and hit a 3, tying the game at 21.
Then, with UNM down by 3 in the final minute of the half, Snell found a driving line and threw down a resounding dunk.
He was back, no doubt.
“You’re just happy for him because he works so hard,” Alford said.“… I know what he’s been going through the last week, and to see him out there and having some fun brings a smile to your face as a coach, because you know how bad he wants it.”
Saturday’s rout of the Rebels was yet another example of the depth and balance this UNM team possesses.
Starting guards Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood and backup Phillip McDonald scored a combined nine points on 3-for-15 shooting, yet the Lobos beat the nation’s 11th-ranked team by 20.
And, thanks to Gordon’s historic performance, it seems likely the Lobos would have beaten the Rebels even if Snell had called in sick. They have, after all, won their last seven games by an average of 20.7 points.
Even so, the return of a confident, aggressive Snell can only be good news for the Lobos.
One of these days, after all, they’re going to find themselves in a close game.
Aren’t they?

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