It took a few games for K.J. Jenkins to really get warmed up this season for the Lobos.
Then again, as his coach Richard Pitino points out, “we haven’t played that many games.”
The 6-foot-2 junior college transfer who averaged 3.8 3-pointers per game (at a blistering 46.2% clip) hit 4-of-11 3-point tries over the team’s first three games.
In the past two games, the Atlanta native hit 4 of 5 in Saturday’s win over Montana State and 4 of- 7 in Monday’s win over Western New Mexico.
The Lobos hope that as he continues to find his stroke from the outside, the rest of the floor will continue to open up for his teammates in this week’s Las Vegas (Nev.) Invitational, where UNM plays Thursday against UAB.
“He’s one of those guys when he shoots you think it’s going to go in,” said Pitino. “So he draws a lot of attention.”
UNM hit nine 3-pointers on Monday. It was the third time in five games the team had at least nine 3s after a 6-16 season in which they had three such games. The Lobos are hitting 40.0% (44-of-110) from 3-point range. Jenkins, averaging 18.5 points over the past two games, believes he can do a variety of things if asked.
“You know, it’s just understanding my role at the end of the day,” said Jenkins Monday after his 20-point, five-assist and three-steal game. “… When my name is called on, go out there and just play my hardest and if I can contribute to the win, then I’m very happy.”
Meanwhile, Pitino also isn’t going to overthink things. The Lobos need to find him open shots.
“Every time he shoots, I believe it’s gonna go in,” Pitino said Monday. “He’s that good of a shooter. He is one of the better shooters that I’ve seen and coached in a long time. He’s got the ultimate green light.”
INJURY UPDATE: Whether or not Jaelen House, UNM’s leader in average points, assists, steals and minutes, plays on Thursday is technically a game-day decision. House was held out of Monday’s win over WNMU with an ankle sprain sustained in Saturday’s win over Montana State.
But Pitino also said the 6-foot guard asked in that Montana State game to go back in and said he went through game-day shootaround ahead of the WNMU game, indicating he was pretty close to returning. Had the game not been against a Division II opponent, maybe he would have played.
Pitino said the same of Saquan Singleton, the senior who hasn’t played yet this season after a case of COVID-19 then a heart abnormality left him out for about two months before returning to practice last week. The 6-6 guard posted on social media after Monday’s game that he is back and “now it’s time to roll.”
40 UNDER 40: There were three New Mexico connections on The Athletic’s 40 under 40 release this week for influential people in college basketball under the age of 40.
• Pitino, 39, the Lobos’ first-year coach;
• Albuquerque Academy grad Cody Toppert, 38, assistant coach at Memphis;
• Jordan Sperber, the 28-year-old former basketball staffer at New Mexico State under both Paul Weir and Chris Jans, who also worked a season under Eric Musselman at Nevada before creating his HoopVision media company.
THE LAST TIME: UAB and UNM have played once before, also in a November multi-team event with UNM featuring a first-year head coach (Craig Neal) and UAB with a second-year head coach (Jerod Haase).
Behind Kendall Williams’ 29 points, 10 assists and a buzzer beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation to extend the game, the Lobos beat UAB 97-94 in double overtime at the 2013 Charleston (S.C.) Classic.
I’M STEALING THIS: UNM’s game notes this week pointed out that the last time the team had a player with seven steals in a game, which Taryn Todd (seven at Colorado) and Jaelen House (eight vs. Grambling State) did in back to back games, was in 2003. That was when Danny Granger had seven steals vs. Penn State while the Lobos were playing in … the Las Vegas Invitational in the Orleans.
SCHEDULING FUN: The Lobos are playing in the four-team Continental Tires Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans. There is also a four-team Continental Tires Classic also being played Thursday and Friday at the Orleans. Schedule accordingly.
TEAMS IN THE FIELD:
KenPom rating: 260 (of 358)