Lobo basketball faces big test Friday in Kevin Samuel, South Alabama - Albuquerque Journal

Lobo basketball faces big test Friday in Kevin Samuel, South Alabama

Kevin Samuel is covered by Kansas State guard Mike McGuirl (00) while playing for TCU back on March 10, 2021. The 7-foot Samuel is an accomplished center who brings his game to the Pit Friday when South Alabama comes to face New Mexico. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Yes, the Lobos won their season opener on Monday night in the Pit.

Still, the hope heading into Friday night’s game against visiting South Alabama is that they have to find a way to rebound.

After an offseason that included adding two bulky transfer forwards — 6-foot-8 Morris Udeze and 6-8 Josiah Allick — to a front court with two rising sophomores presumably expanding their games — 7-footer Sebastian Forsling and 6-11 Birima Seck — the hope was there wouldn’t be too many times the team would lose the battle of the boards as it did Monday against Southern Utah, 40-38.

CLICK TO ENLARGE GRAPHIC

The bigger concern on Friday (7 p.m., themw.com, 770 AM/96.3  FM) is the Lobos face off against who could be the best true center they will see all season — the NCAA’s active leader in career rebounds, no less — in 7-foot, 260-pound Kevin Samuel.

Combatting Samuel’s dominance will need to be a team effort on both sides of the floor for the Lobos.

“I think we weren’t getting the ball into the paint enough in the first half,” Pitino said after Monday’s game about how his team utilized its new big men.

The Lobos followed a 39-point first half with 50 points in the second, largely because of the openings created by playing inside-out rather than outside-in as they did much of the first half with their big men in foul trouble.

“I thought the second half we did a much better job. … Second half, we put an emphasis on throwing the ball down in there, and we didn’t do that much last year, hardly ever. And so I think if the 5s and the 4s can embrace that and play off each other — Morris one time had a high-low (where he caught the ball near the free throw line), we hit him and he threw over the top to Jay (Allen-Tovar near the rim).

“That’s what we’ve been working on a bunch, drilling it a bunch. It’s hard to guard… it’s hard to guard. That’s the highest percentage shot right around the rim. Keep chipping away at it.”

Finding ways to pull Samuel away from the rim or get around him will be a tall order.

The graduate transfer from Barbuda has the following accolades to his impressive college career, so far:

■ Started 95 games for TCU over three seasons from 2018-19 through 2020-21, where he is the all-time blocked shots leader (206).

■ He was the Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year last season playing for Florida Gulf Coast, where he ranked fifth nationally in both blocked shots and field goal percentage.

■ He’s one of just three active Division I players with 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds

Essentially, he represents what the Lobos worked to get better at themselves all offseason.

FORSLING? The 7-foot sophomore center from Sweden who has already dealt with several injuries since going home over the summer to play with his home country’s junior national team could help the Lobos for stretches on Friday, but it’s unclear if he’ll suit up.

He sprained his ankle two weeks ago and returned to practice before the Southern Utah game, only to re-aggravate it the day prior to the game.

“We thought he was going to play today,” Pitino said Monday night. “And then he rolled his ankle (Sunday) in practice. So, I’d say day-to-day.”

PITINO-FOR-2: OK, so it was a few years ago, but while the UNM Lobos have never played against South Alabama, Richard Pitino has gone toe-to-to with the Jaguars before.

In the 2012-13 season, Pitino’s Florida International team, a member of the Sun Belt Conference, lost twice to the Jaguars, who that season were coached by Jeff Price.

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