Emptying the Notebook: Lobos must address their 'bigs' problem - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: Lobos must address their ‘bigs’ problem

Nevada coach Steve Alford, left, and UNM Lobos coach Richard Pitino, right, shake hands before Wednesday’s Mountain West Tournament game. (Mike Sandoval/For the Albuquerque Journal)
LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Here are a few extra notes, quotes, videos and whatever other odds & ends I could empty out of the old notebook for the final time this season after Wednesday’s 79-72 Lobos loss to Nevada in the Mountain West Tournament:

Paint problems…

Maybe there was no more fitting way for the Lobos to end this 2021-22 season than by having their most glaring deficiency exposed for all to see heading into to offseason.

Nevada dominating the Lobos in the paint.

The final stat line showed a 40-20 Nevada advantage in points in the paint and a 40-30 rebounding advantage.

The dominance near the rim was as much about UNM’s lack of big man effectiveness on offense as it was about the lack of capable big men defenders (capable includes being able to defend the post without fouling).

“I thought we did a lot of good things in the paint,” Nevada coach Steve Alford said. “I thought we handled the backboard the way we wanted to handle it.”

Alford also specifically noted that coming into the game, they knew the paint was the Lobo weakness, which all Mountain West coaches basically knew by a few games into league play in January.

“We thought we had an advantage in the paint,” Alford said. “And that’s dicey because I think Mashburn and House do a great job of attacking the paint. But we really wanted to set our D up to where we made things hard for them and hopefully passing to their bigs more than shooting. That’s not being disrespectful to (UNM’s) bigs, it’s just we felt like if we had to give something up, I’d rather … I wanted those bigs to beat us, not the guards.”

Pitino after the loss said he’s optimistic about what’s to come at UNM, but there’s obviously work to do.

“Today, certainly we wanted a win. We wanted to go on a run,” said Pitino after the 79-72 loss. “But you look at our roster, we’re clearly deficient at certain spots with what transpired this year.”

Entering the Mountain West Tournament, UNM averaged 28.6 points in the paint per game — many from attacking guards Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn, Jr., and very little from big men scoring down low either in postups, one-on-ones or with dump offs from those attacking guards.

On the other end, the Lobo opponents averaged 36.6 points scored in the paint, often having their way with scoring at the rim.

This play for Nevada shows A) what the Lobos want more of next season if they get improved play from the bigs (or new bigs) and B) what they hope to stop opponents front doing so often if they get improved play from the bigs (or new bigs).

It illustrates the dangerous weapon a really good pick and roll combination can be, but you need both pieces, not only the good guards.

As for the defense, you can also see how far behind UNM is on pick and roll defense if this is how open a look at the rim Warren Washington can get, leaving 6-foot-2 help defender guard K.J. Jenkins in a position to pick up a sloppy foul.

Points in the paint isn’t always a telling stat. But for the Lobos this season, many of their worst or most painful losses coincided with that getting dominated in the paint:

• -34 (32-66) — L, Dec. 6 vs. New Mexico State
• -34 (20-54) — L, Jan. 8 vs. Utah State
• -24 (20-44) — L, Jan. 11 at UNLV
• -22 (20-42) — W, Nov. 20 vs. Montana State
• -22 (22-44) — L, Feb. 17 vs. CSU
• -20 (20-40) — L, Wednesday vs. Nevada
• -16 (22-38) — L, Jan. 1 at Nevada
• -16 (20-36) — L, Jan. 19 at Colorado State
• -16 (28-44) — L, Feb. 22 at Utah State
• -14 (28-42) — L, Dec. 19 vs. SMU
• -14 (16-30) — L, Jan. 31 at SDSU

Eight of the 11 games listed above happened in UNM’s 18 league games (17 regular season MW games and vs. Nevada on Saturday).

The gamer…

Here’s the gamer I filed from the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday afternoon…

A number to know: 1,107

Jaelen House scored 19 points and Jamal Mashburn Jr. added 15 on Wednesday for a combined 34 points.

That brings the duo’s season total up to 1,107 points, which is seventh best in UNM history for a duo.

UNM’s all-time list for top scoring duos looks like this:

• 1,400 (1986-87): Hunter Greene 740, Kelvin Scarborough 660
• 1,238 (2013-14): Cameron Bairstow 694, Kendall Williams 544
• 1,233 (2015-16): Brown 694, Williams 539
• 1,219 (1987-88): Charlie Thomas 613, Hunter Greene 606
• 1,126 (1993-94): Greg Brown 599, Marlow White 527
• 1,124 (1977-78): Marvin Johnson, Michael Cooper
• 1,107 (2021-22): Mashburn 582, House 525

He said it

“I wouldn’t change anything about this year. I don’t hold any regrets. I think everything that we’ve been through and I have been through has been a learning experience. So we can only get better and keep moving forward.” — UNM guard Jamal Mashburn Jr.

Pep in their step…

The Lobos did start strong on Wednesday morning.

Maybe the pep in their step had a little something to do with the pep rally walk from the hotel (they stayed this week at the Mirage) to the bus before heading over to the Thomas & Mack Center.

Crying foul

The Lobos and Wolf Pack were whistled for 49 fouls on Wednesday.

The 26 fouls called against UNM was second most this season (27 at Colorado on Nov. 11 was the most).

We probably should have known something was up when there were four fouls called in the first 1:45 of the game:

• 19:48 – offensive foul on UNM
• 19:40 – foul on UNM
• 19:19 – foul on Nevada
• 18:15 – foul on Nevada

Video highlights…

Here are the video highlights of the game, as posted by the Mountain West Conference:

Postgame press conferences…

No postgame video from the Journal’s YouTube page after these tournament games (the postgame set up doesn’t really allow for it). But here is a link to the two postgame press conferences — Nevada first and the UNM Lobos session starts at the 19:10 mark.

Postgame press conference video

Mountain West “first round” history…

UNM’s loss on Wednesday brings the Lobos record in the “first round” of the Mountain West Tournament to 2-4.

The league considers the “first round” only any game played prior to the quarterfinals, meaning seasons that started with the quarterfinals don’t have a “first round” of the tournament.

So, in 23 Mountain West Tournaments, there have been 16 “first rounds” and some of those were called “opening rounds”.

The Paul Weir era provided both of UNM’s opening round wins and one of the losses.

Here’s the UNM opening round breakdown:

• WINS: 2019, 2020
• LOSSES: 2007, 2015, 2021, 2022

As for the whole league, here are the “first round” standings in Mountain West history (you can decide what having a good record in the opening round means as a team is only there if it didn’t qualify for a bye into the quarterfinals):

5-0 Utah State (1.000)
2-0 Boise State (1.000)
1-0 San Diego State (1.000)
3-1 Fresno State (.750)
3-1 UNLV (.750)
6-6 Air Force (.500)
2-2 Nevada (.500)
3-5 Colorado State (.375)
4-7 Wyoming (.364)
2-4 New Mexico (.333)
0-8 San Jose State (.000)


The announced attendance for Wednesday’s game was … unannounced.

If the Mountain West posted the day’s attendance figures anywhere, I didn’t see them and couldn’t find them on the league’s web site or any box scores.

But I do know Lobo fans were once again the best fan base in the arena for Wednesday’s three men’s games, and that was without the masses who use Wednesday to travel fro New Mexico to Las Vegas (and who, unfortunately, won’t get to see UNM play again this season).

House theft…

Jaelen House finished his first season with the Lobos with 68 steals, good for 7th most all-time in a season for a Lobo.

UNM single season steal leaders:
1. 84 – Hunter Greene (1986-87)
2. 80 – Kelvin Scarborough (1984-85)
3. 78 – Kelvin Scarborough (1986-87)
4. 77 – Phil Smith (1983-84)
5. 70 – Hunter Greene (1987-88)
6. 69 – Gabe Nava (1973-74)
7. 68 – Jaelen House (2021-22)
8. 66 – Charles Smith (1995-96)

Half the story…

The Lobos shot 52.0% (13-25) in the first half of Wednesday’s game.

The Lobos shot 30.3% (10-33) in the second half of Wednesday’s game.

Another number to know: 10

UNM hit 10 (of 27) 3-pointers on Wednesday. It was the first time in 11 games the Lobos hit 10 ore more 3-pointers in a game.

Here are a couple of them…

And one more…

‘Tis the season…

This time of year, a lot of people enjoy speculating that half the roster of their favorite team will transfer and that when that happens that will be the worst thing in the world.

At the same time, those same fans also like speculating on who the transfers coming in will be to help the team next year — something that can only happen in the first place if some current players transfer out to open up scholarships.

As for junior Jay Allen-Tovar, when one Lobo fan took to Twitter on Wednesday night to suggest he’s putting his money on the 6-foot-9 forward leaving the program, Allen-Tovar had a pretty concise response.

“You’ll lose it all,” he wrote on his Twitter feed.

Transfers are going to happen.

They should happen.

They’re a good thing for the player and often for the team, too.

Remind me again the success ratio at UNM for transfers who came in with a positive impact vs. transfers who left the program that hurt the team?

So, let it play out.

I, for one, won’t be wasting much time here or on Twitter playing the speculation game. The players will let us know when they’ve decided to leave the program or not.

Twice was enough…

Usually, and in a perfect world, the conference tournament is the third time teams play each other in a season.

But with the logistics of an 11-team league playing an 18-game conference schedule, the math doesn’t allow for every team to play each other twice in the regular season, so a couple of teams every season see just once before postseason play.

This season, the two teams schedule to play UNM just once were Nevada and Boise State with San Diego State being an unexpected third league foe the Lobos played just once in the regular season after COVID cost the Aztecs a trip to Albuquerque.

What does all this have to do with the Mountain West Tournament?

With the Lobos losing to Nevada on Wednesday, it marked the first time in nearly four decades they didn’t play a team three times.

UNM hoops’ SID Steve Kirkland had the note about it in the pre-tournament team notes, indicating the last time the Lobos didn’t play an opponent three times was the 1982-83 season, one year before the WAC Tournament began.

Even if the Lobos won, their quarterfinals opponent would have been Boise State and it would have taken until the semifinals against wither Wyoming or UNLV (both teams UNM beat this season) before they’d get a third crack at an opponent.


Here are the plus/minus numbers from Wednesday’s game:

+6 K.J. Jenkins (24:53)
+5 Jaelen House (29:00)
+1 Jordan Arroyo (6:17)
-1 Jay Allen-Tovar (11:57)
-4 Jeremiah Francis III (2:10)
-6 Saquan Singleton (28:30)
-6 Sebastian Forsling (21:17)
-7 Javonte Johnson (38:24)
-8 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (31:07)
-15 Taryn Todd (6:25)

+10 Tre Coleman (34:33)
+8 Grant Sherfield (38:13)
+7 Will Baker (15:09)
+5 Kenan Blackshear (36:30)
+4 Alem Huseinovic (00:38)
+3 Desmond Cambridge Jr. (18:40)
+1 Daniel Foster (25:39)
-1 K.J. Hymes (5:42)
-2 Warren Washington (24:56)

Line ’em up…

The Lobos used 18 unique lineups on Wednesday, many out of necessity because of foul trouble, and Nevada trotted out 14 unique lineup combinations.

Here’s a snapshot review of how some of the Lobos lineups performed, starting with the starters…

• Who: House/Mashburn/Singleton/Johnson/Allen-Tovar
• Point differential: 0 (8-8)
• Time on court: 6:01
• NOTE: The starters didn’t get to play long because of foul trouble, which was also the reason the game starters weren’t even the same starters after halftime.

But when this group of five was on the floor, largely against Nevada’s starting five, they played the Wolf Pack even, 8-8.

In just six minutes, though, this group had four turnovers and scored just 0.6734 points per possession.

Those aren’t good numbers. Thankfully for UNM, Nevada’s starters were bad together for the most part, too.

BEST LINEUP (take 1)
• Who: House/Mashburn/Jenkins/Johnson/Allen-Tovar
• Point differential: +5 (13-8)
• Time on court: 5:13
• NOTE: At 1.3320 points per possession and a team-best +5 scoring differential, this might have been the best lineup of the game for the Lobos.

Unless it was this other one…

BEST LINEUP (take 2)
• Who: House/Jenkins/Singleton/Johnson/Allen-Tovar
• Point differential: +5 (6-1)
• Time on court: 2:10
• NOTE: If that lineup above wasn’t the best, maybe this was the best lineup combination of the night. The were both at +5.

This one scored 1.3889 points per possession and in 2:10 allowed just one made free throw to Nevada.

• Who: Jenkins/Mashburn/Singleton/Johnson/Forsling
• Point differential: -7 (9-16)
• Time on court: 6:53

Meanwhile, in the women’s championship…

At the end of a long day of games Wednesday in the Thomas & Mack, UNLV’s women’s basketball team did what top seeds are supposed to do: They beat the lesser team and closed the day by punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

UNLV ends a 20-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Around the Mountain…

Back to the men’s bracket…

There were three games in the Mountain West Tournament on Wednesday with four more quarterfinal round games coming on Thursday:

• No. 8 Nevada 79, No. 9 New Mexico 72
• No. 7 Utah State 83, No. 10 Air Force 56
• No. 6 Fresno State 69, No. 11 San Jose State 67 (OT)

• No. 8 Nevada vs. No. 1 Boise State, noon PT/1 p.m. MT
• No. 5 UNLV vs. No. 4 Wyoming, 2:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. MT
• No. 7 Utah State vs. No. 2 Colorado State, 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT
• No. 6 Fresno State vs. No. 3 San Diego State, 8:30 p.m. PT/9:30 p.m. MT

• Semifinal: BSU/Nevada vs. Wyoming/UNLV, 6:30 PT/7:30 MT
• Semifinal: CSU/USU vs. SDSU/FS, 9 p.m. PT/10 p.m. MT

• Championship, 3 p.m. PT/4 p.m. MT

Stats and stats…

Here are the postgame stats from Wednesday’s game: Nevada 79, New Mexico 72

And if you prefer the digital version of the stats: Nevada 79, New Mexico 72

Grammer’ Guesses

Hey, the regular season embarrassment is over. Maybe now I can get some of these right.

The Guesses went 2-1 on Wednesday, picking the right side of the point spreads in the Utah State/Air Force game and the Fresno State/San Jose State games.

So, for the MW Tournament, I’m 2-1.

Until next time…

While I hope to get back to the Thomas & Mack on Thursday after my other work obligations to watch some of these MWC Tournament quarterfinal games, I know Wednesday was it for my Lobo hoops coverage for the 2021-22 season.

I left the arena on Wednesday before I could get an empty arena picture. Instead, I leave you this time with a tweet from late Tuesday night when I left the arena long after the UNM women’s season had ended…

Home » Sports » Emptying the Notebook: Lobos must address their ‘bigs’ problem

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