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Hoops notebook: Lobos to play in Las Vegas tournament

Lobo men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino looks on as Jordan Arroyo dribbles in a drill in April at the Rudy Davalos practice facility at UNM. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Lobo basketball can’t play ’em all in the Pit, no matter how much they’d like to.

So come November, they’ll be playing at least a pair of non-conference games in their second most common location: Las Vegas, Nevada.

UNM has signed on to be one of four teams in the 2021 Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament Thanksgiving week in the Orleans Hotel & Casino. The other three teams were not announced.

As part of the contract for the event signed earlier this month by UNM and Basketball Promotions & Events LLC, the company that puts on the tournament, the Lobos will pay $30,000 to participate and get two games – Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 – in addition to lodging for the team and travel party.

The contract also indicates the event is considered a “29 plus 2 MTE” by new NCAA guidelines, which means the Lobos will be playing 31 total games in the 2021-22 season – 18 Mountain West games and 13 non-conference games. Of those, one will be at UTEP with new head coach Joe Golding, and two will be the resumption of the longtime in-state rivalry with New Mexico State – one in Las Cruces, one in Albuquerque. That annual home-and-home series was cancelled this past season due to COVID-19 restrictions in New Mexico, marking the first time since World War II the Lobos and Aggies didn’t play a men’s basketball game.

The Orleans has been host for several years to regular-season men’s basketball events and both the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference basketball tournaments each March.

Even before the literal relocation to Las Vegas last fall for UNM football due to COVID-19 restrictions in place in New Mexico, Sin City had long been considered by Lobo sports fans a home away from home, primarily due to the success the basketball team has had there in Mountain West tournament play in addition to at least one conference game there each season.

As far as non-conference play goes, however, the visits aren’t as common. The last time UNM’s men’s basketball team played a non-Mountain West game in Las Vegas was when the Lobos beat Marquette behind a game-high 24 points from freshman guard Cullen Neal in the MGM Grand Showcase on Dec. 21, 2013.

The Lobos have competed in the Las Vegas Classic twice – going 1-1 (a win over a ranked Wichita State team and a loss to Kansas State) in Las Vegas in the 2006-07 season under Ritchie McKay and 1-1 (a win over Colorado and a loss to Northern Iowa) there in 2010-11 under Steve Alford.

MAKUACH’S MOM: At a ceremony earlier this week for all Lobo athletes graduating this spring, the guest speaker was Makuach Maluach, the four-year men’s basketball starter who has long been planning to move on this summer to begin a professional playing career overseas, though he has never made such an announcement to media or fans.

The senior, whose family fled South Sudan for Australia when he was 10, spoke of his journey to Albuquerque four years ago when he took an 18-hour flight to a school where he only knew one person, former assistant Chris Harriman.

He talked about all his trials, tribulations and lessons learned over the past four years, and told his fellow athletes his “greatest achievement” at UNM was “telling my mom that I am a college graduate.”

Maluach is graduating with a degree in Business Administration.

MOVING ON: Strength and conditioning coach Nick Michael now holds the same position at Loyola-Chicago. 

He announced on social media Tuesday he was grateful for the opportunity at UNM. Later the same day, Loyola announced his hiring there. 

Michael spent just the 2020-21 season with the Lobos. 

HE SAID IT: University news releases announcing a new player has joined the team – often several days after the player himself has done so on social media – usually include a crafted, boilerplate, sort of statement from both coach and player. Other than changes in the names and dates of the releases, one couldn’t tell a difference based on the quotes from one new player announcement to the next.

The recent commitment of 6-foot-11 Swedish center Sebastian Forsling, however, brought a unique perspective on why he chose UNM while also flexing his knowledge of Lobos in the wild.

“The word ‘family’ means a lot to me and UNM is all about family,” Forsling said in the news release. “‘The lone wolf dies but the pack survives’ is a quote I live for.”




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