Another Monday brought another helping of praise for the UNM Lobo men’s basketball team.
Last week, Lobo forward Morris Udeze was named the Mountain West Player of the Week — the first such honor for the program since December 2019.
This week, Monday brought with it the Mountain West Freshman of the Week award going to Lobo point guard Donovan Dent and ESPN named second-year Lobos coach Richard Pitino its national college basketball “Coach of the Week” after his team went to Moraga, California, last week and beat Saint Mary’s, snapping the Gaels’ 23-game home win streak.
“I’ve got to look at my contract to see if there’s a bonus in there. I don’t think there’s a bonus for ESPN coach of the week,” Pitino joked on Monday afternoon. “I think at the end of the day the message to anybody is if you win, you’re gonna get recognized. And we are starting to get national recognition, which is good for the program.”
The Lobos (7-0) also checked in at No. 27 in Monday’s first release of the NCAA’s NET rankings — the metric used heavily by the NCAA Selection Committee to determine which teams to invite to the NCAA Tournament — and is one of the final 12 Division I teams (out of 363) that is still undefeated.
All well and good, Pitino said, but now he has to convince the team that all the praise doesn’t mean you overlook games like Tuesday night’s against Division II Western New Mexico (at 7 p.m. in the Pit) or Saturday against UT-San Antonio, all while, for the second time this season, having a long break between a big road win and the Lobos’ next game thanks to the cancellation of the Nov. 19 home game against New Mexico State and Saturday’s cancellation of the Lobos’ game at New Mexico State in Las Cruces.
“I think the biggest thing is you can’t get bored with working hard,” Pitino said. “And it has been very, very weird, these big long breaks. And then you got finals week and so on. So I’ve tried to be short in practice, but get them better, put a huge emphasis on, even if we’re not going to go live (in practice), we’re going to develop your skills. We’re going to make sure that we’re fresh.”
As for Dent, the freshman guard who was voted “Mr. California” last year as a high school senior at Corona (California) Centennial High School, he had 13 points, six rebounds and two assists in the big win back in his home state last week with most of those stats coming in the final minutes.
Monday morning, he was in the weight room when he noticed the music he was listening to on his phone kept getting interrupted.
“My phone was on the music and it kept going off — all the alerts,” Dent said. “I was like, what the heck?”
Dent comes off the bench for the Lobos as UNM has two returning all-league lead guards in front of him in Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., but he and senior K.J. Jenkins give the Lobos as good a four-guard lineup as the league has.
And Dent says he’s learning every day from having to go against House in practice.
“Going against House every day in practice, he’s probably one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever played against,” Dent said. “So, just learning like how to counter all his stuff, it helps me in games a lot. I feel like no one in the game moves as fast as him on ball.”
NET RANKINGS: The Lobos checked in at No. 2 in the NCAA’s NET ranking on Monday, and the Mountain West Conference as a whole had a great initial showing.
POLL POSITION: The Lobos did add another AP voter (and two more points) to the list with Monday’s new Associated Press Top 25 poll.
UNM is in the “others receiving votes” section of the poll with 3 points — 2 from the No. 24 vote by Rick Bozich of WDRB-TV in Louisville, Kent., and 1 from the 25th place vote from Brenna Greene of KOIN-TV in Portland.
The other 60 AP voters did not rank the Lobos.
No. 22 San Diego State remains the only Mountain West team to be ranked, but UNLV joined the Lobos in the “others receiving votes” category with 14 points.