Lobo men bring out the bubble to improve on boards - Albuquerque Journal

Lobo men bring out the bubble to improve on boards

UNM Lobo Javonte Johnson
Javonte Johnson, with the ball, is shown during a preseason UNM basketball practice. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s made of hard plastic, goes for about $140 online and looks like the top of a glass of milk when a kid is blowing bubbles through a straw.

And the oddly shaped rebounding bubble, or dome, is one of the most hated “tools” in college basketball – an almost sadistic device that prevents shots from going through the hoop with the intent of making every shot a rebounding opportunity.

The mere sight of it sitting next to a basket, usually by a ladder, as players arrive for a workout brings about groans and sets the tone for that day’s practice long before a coach starts his first drills.

This week in the Pit, as the UNM Lobos (2-1) prepare for Saturday’s afternoon tilt with the Montana State Bobcats (1-2), the bubble made multiple appearances.

“If you’re a bad rebounding team, it’s on the coaches to do a better job,” said first-year Lobos coach Richard Pitino. “So we got to emphasize it more.”

The Lobos, who have given reason for plenty of optimism about the team’s offensive potential this season with a sharp-shooting, guard-dominated team, have also been exposed on the boards, having been outrebounded in all three games, prompting Pitino to admit earlier this week that he was “very concerned” .

“We’re not physical enough. We’re not tough enough,” said Pitino. “We’ll get stronger. We have some lean bodies who are young, so I think their bodies will change over time for sure. But I still know we can do better. I mean, we were minus-6 on the glass vs. Grambling State. Do I understand getting outrebounded by a good FAU team who almost be Miami, or a big physical Colorado team? I get it. (But) we shouldn’t get outrebounded by Grambling. It’s no disrespect to them, but they’re not bigger than us. … I don’t think it’s anything philosophically that we’re doing (to have such bad rebounding numbers so far), it’s just we’re not doing it well.”

The numbers certainly support that assertion.

UNM has been outrebounded this season 132-89 (a minus-14.3 per game margin) and the Lobos’ three opponents have grabbed 22 more offensive rebounds that have led to 39 second chance points.

According to KenPom.com, the Lobos rank 343rd out of 358 Division I teams in defensive rebound rate, allowing opponents to grab 41.8% of their missed shots (the national average is 28.7%). The Bobcats rank 74th in offensive rebound rate.

“They’re aggressive,” Lobo starting guard Taryn Todd said. “They’re gonna go for the offensive rebounds.”

The Lobos start three guards who stand 6-foot-5 (Todd), 6-2 and 6-0 with another 6-2 coming off the bench. The imminent returns of 6-6 Saquan Singleton and 6-7 Emmanuel Kuac will help, but neither are expected to play Saturday.

“I think it’s a big part – the guards, too,” said the 6-0 House. “I don’t think we’re hitting people, either. It’s not just all on the bigs. We got to all, collectively as five, go get the rebound.”

TOUGH ENOUGH: Pitino said Monday night he told his team the Grambling State game would be, for a variety of reasons, the toughest game of the season.

Thursday, he said the same of the Montana State game.

“Toughest game of the year for us,” Pitino said. “Obviously, Colorado was tough – they’ve all been tough. But we need a great crowd Saturday. … Let’s pack this place because we’re gonna need our fans. This is a very tough game.”

HE SAID IT: If you don’t want to take his word for it, Pitino shared a comment from Colorado coach Tad Boyle on Montana State, who took the Buffaloes to overtime four days before the Lobos lost there by 11 in regulation.

“The first thing Tad Boyle said to me was, ‘Why did you schedule Montana State?’ And I said, I blame (UNM Athletic Director) Eddie Nunez for that,” Pitino joked with reporters about this week.

“But you know, we wanted a quality opponent. … This is a game that we thought would be great for our fans, great for our young team.”

And for Montana State, the game comes with a $75,000 payday and what they believe to be a very real chance at a big road win.

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