Emptying the Notebook: There's work to do, but Lobos owe no apologies for loss - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: There’s work to do, but Lobos owe no apologies for loss

The Save Mart Center on the campus of Fresno State University on Jan. 3, 2023. (Geoff Grammer/Albuquerque Journal)
FRESNO, Calif. — Here are some extra notes, stats, quotes and whatever other odds & ends I could empty out of the old notebook after Tuesday’s 71-67 Lobo loss at Fresno State:

Pitino proud, offers perspective…

At the end of a 14-0 start to the season, there’s a lot of ways to dissect why the streak came to a halt.

But there’s also little reason to go overboard with doing so in this case.

While there were plenty of people piling on the Lobos in the past week about their lack of schedule strength or dominant wins as they were one of the remaining few teams without a loss, and many on social media were already feeling some weird sense of I told you so satisfaction now that UNM lost for the first time (as literally every other college basketball team in the country had already done), the reality is the Lobos have nothing to apologize for.

They were the last team in the country without a loss. They’re a team that in 49 games has gone from 303 in the NCAA’s NET rankings to as high as 12 in the past week. They went from No. 294 in the KenPom rankings to as high as 56 earlier this week. The Pit has gone from apathetic and half-full to back-to-back 15,000-plus home crowds and this Saturday against UNLV will be the first sell out since March 2015.

People around the college basketball landscape enjoying the Lobos loss on Tuesday feeling it exposed them as anything don’t realize this team was already playing with house money in some respects this quickly into what was a significant rebuild.

“I think all the the national narrative about us has zero perspective about where we started a year and a half ago,” UNM coach Richard Pitino told the Journal in a postgame interview in Fresno. “In 18 months, we’ve taken a team that won six games, and the fan interest was down to sell outs — getting Albuquerque, getting the state of New Mexico engaged again.

“Are we ready ready to win a national championship and go to a Final Four? Probably not. But after 15 games (this season), I think we’ve done a lot. Our fan base is rejuvenated. Our players are playing hard. We’re 2-1 in league. We’re 14-1 (overall). So, we’re gonna have to learn from it. I did not think we were gonna go undefeated. I’m just proud of the run that we had. It was amazing.”

It’s OK sometimes to just appreciate good things when they happen. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of work to do. Oh, they do. And I’ll break that stuff down as I always do in these postgame columns moving forward.

I’ve never seen tears in a locker room for an early January game, but make no mistake, there were some there on Tuesday in Fresno. This mattered to the Lobos, which is not only OK, it’s a great thing. Not every team I’ve covered at UNM had that.

UNM Athletics, and the Albuquerque sports landscape to a lesser degree, needed what the Lobos delivered so far this season. That the loss came Tuesday to a Fresno State team that has a longer history of beating the Lobos than I think most fans realize (see note below), isn’t the end of this team’s run.

The gamer…

Here is the game story I filed from the Save Mart Center in Fresno late Tuesday night:

Before there were none, there was one…

These next two sections will play out like a little bit of a before and after, but since we’ve been updating the Ken Pomeroy unbeaten team tweets all season, we need to put a bow on that tradition here with two posts.

First, let’s go back in time. All the way back to Monday night.

That was when Rutgers upset Purdue, leaving the UNM Lobos as the final of 363 Division I men’s basketball teams in the country without a loss…

And, for those around the country who still needed a reminder that New Mexico is, in fact, in the United States, maybe the updated map from Joey Loose, who updates this map daily every season of the remaining unbeaten teams, could help…

And then, there were none…

And now for the bitter sweet Ken Pomeroy update for Lobo fans — one they had hoped wouldn’t come anytime soon.

Where it ranks…

The Lobos’ 14-0 start to the season before Tuesday ranks as the second best start in the program’s 119 season history:

17-0: 1967-68
14-0: 2022-23*
12-0: 2012-13
12-0: 2009-10
12-0: 1973-74

* Win streak ended Tuesday night in Fresno.

Good House…

First off, you can put me down in the camp of Jaelen House is absolutely in the conversation of Mountain West Player of the Year to this point of the season, and it’s about his defense every bit as much as his offense — both of which have crazy stats to back up the claim.

However long the list is of true candidates right now, and I don’t think it can be very long, House is on it.

So, let’s start with some good House stat updates.

With two free throws House hit with 1:10 showing on the clock in the first half, he reached 1,000 total points scored in his college career. He ended up with 16 points in the game, putting him at 1,009 overall — 229 points at Arizona State and now 780 at New Mexico.

House is the second Lobo this season to reach the 1,000 point milestone. Jamal Mashburn Jr. did it in the Dec. 18 game vs. Iona.

House is now the fourth member of his family to score 1,000 points in college:
• Father Eddie House (2,044 at Arizona State)
• Grandfather Henry Bibby (1,293 at UCLA)
• Uncle Mike Bibby (1,061 at Arizona)
• Jaelen House (229 ASU, 780 UNM)

Also, House’s defense continues to be elite. In fact, with his four steals and one blocked shot on Tuesday, he’s now leading the Mountain West in steals overall this season and in conference games and ranks in top eight in blocked shots both overall and in conference play. No other player in the league is showing up on both lists like that.

MWC STEALS/GAME
Overall
1. Jaelen House, UNM — 2.9
2. Luis Rodriguez, UNLV — 2.4

Conference games only
1. Jaelen House, UNM — 4.0
2. Kenan Blackshear, Nevada — 2.0

MWC BLOCKS/GAME
Overall
1. Ibrahima Diallo, SJSU — 2.3

8. Jaelen House, UNM — 0.9

Conference games only
Overall
1. Ibrahima Diallo, SJSU — 2.7

7. Jaelen House, UNM — 1.3

But the good with Jaelen House sometimes come with the bad. So…

Bad House…

Jaelen House had six turnovers on Tuesday, a season high for him and tied for the high in Mountain West games with the six UNLV’s Keshon Gilbert had in Saturday’s loss to San Diego State.

Overall this season, two players had more turnovers in nonconference games — Nevada’s Kenan Blackshear (8 vs. Tulane on Nov. 21) and Wyomings Max Agbonkpolo (7 vs. Nicholls on Nov. 10), but House’s six are tied for the worst in league games so far.

Three of House’s six turnovers on Tuesday turned into six points for Fresno State (the Bulldogs had 21 points off 16 total Lobo turnovers).

And then came the fouls. Five of them committed by House who, for the second consecutive game, found himself fouling out in the final minute by fouling an opposing guard intentionally to stop the clock as the Lobos trailed.

FIRST 44 GAMES AT UNM
• House foul outs: 2

PAST 2 GAMES AT UNM
• House foul outs: 2

Man, they missed K.J. …

Senior guard, and co-captain, K.J. Jenkins, missed Tuesday’s game with a sprained ankle, but is hopeful to return by Saturday’s game vs. UNLV.

Aside from his missed production (see below), I think Jenkins provides invaluable stability of and spark off the bench — uniquely combining an instant scoring pop with a sense of calming his teammates down when he’s on the floor.

They missed that on Tuesday. How much?

“A lot. I mean, I don’t know if it’s the reason we lost the game, but he’s been playing great,” Lobos coach Richard Pitino told me after the game. “And he’s 20 minutes a game. The rotation just felt a little bit different. Obviously we didn’t play as many guys, but I think he’s been playing great basketball. He’s been coming in and shooting the ball very, very well. He’s got a steadying influence, so that certainly is disappointing. Hopefully get him back for Saturday.”

Here is KJ’s season break down:

First 10 games
• Points per game: 6.9 ppg
• Double digit scoring games: 2
• Total made 3-pointers: 9
• 3FG%: 30.0%

Last 4 games (played)
• Points per game: 13.8 ppg
• Double digit scoring games: 4
• Total made 3-pointers: 14
• 3FG%: 60.9%

Tuesday
• did not play

Speaking of numbers… ouch!

We post a lot of numbers in these ETN column after every game.

Well, the Fresno State Bulldogs absolutely have the number of the Lobos right now.

Fresno State leads the all-time series vs. UNM 21-17; has won the last seven games in a row; nine of the last 10; and 12 of the last 14.

Oh, and how about this nugget? The Bulldogs proved to be the final defeat in the head coaching tenures of each of the previous two Lobo coaches — Craig Neal in 2017 and Paul Weir in 2021 — with neither yet having been a head coach again.

So, if you’re a Lobo fan, you may want to look away as even in the lean years, series in men’s basketball have rarely gotten this lopsided for UNM:

UNM/FS series since start of 2017:

• 2/18/17 — FS 71, UNM 61
• 3/09/17 — FS 65, UNM 60 (Final game of Craig Neal era)
• 1/13/18 — FS 89, UNM 80
• 3/03/18 — UNM 95, FS 86 (OT)
• 2/02/19 — FS 82, UNM 70
• 2/16/19 — FS 81, UNM 73
• 1/07/20 — UNM 78, FS 64
• 2/01/20 — FS 82, UNM 77
• 1/28/21 — FS 64, UNM 62 (OT)
• 1/30/21 — FS 65, UNM 55
• 3/10/21 — FS 85, UNM 77 (Final game of Paul Weir era)
• 1/25/22 — FS 65, UNM 60
• 2/28/22 — FS 71, UNM 68
• Tuesday — FS 71, UNM 67 (Ended UNM’s undefeated season)

Welcome back, Mo…

After Morris Udeze was shutout of Saturday’s Lobos win at Wyoming — finishing with zero points and not even taking a shot as foul trouble limited him to only 13 rather forgettable minutes — he made his presence known right away on Tuesday.

This is in the opening minute of the game, the second Lobos possession:

Udeze ended up with 18 points, 7 rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes and his 8-12 shooting.

That 66.7% shooting clip on Tuesday helped him remain the Mountain West leader in field goal percentage:

1. 59.7% — Morris Udeze, UNM
2. 54.2% — Noah Reynolds, Wyoming
3. 48.1% — Jaelen House, UNM

Steals, steals, steals …

UNM tied a season high with 11 steals on Tuesday, matching the 11 they had in the Nov. 30 win at Saint Mary’s.

The 11 steals were also a season high for a Fresno State opponent.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, tied their season high with nine steals.

The costly freebies …

The Lobos like the free throw line.

The Lobos need the free throw line.

UNM gets 22.7% of its scoring this season from the charity stripe, which ranks 24th out of 363 Division I teams and is second highest in the Mountain West, behind only Nevada (26.0%, 3rd nationally).

So when the whistle isn’t a big part of the game, the Lobos lose a source of their scoring that they rely on more than most.

Tuesday, UNM was just 9-of-11 at the free throw line — a good percentage (81.8%), but season lows for both makes and attempts.

Maybe most troubling for the Lobos is this: The three lowest totals for free throws made this season have come in their three last games since Mountain West play began, which could be a longterm problem if that’s the new norm for UNM’s offensive attack.

Here are the five lowest totals of the season for UNM on FTs and FTAs to put some context on just how unusual Tuesday was for the team overall, but also how the trend seems to be heading toward fewer trips to the line for the Lobos:

Fewest FTs made for UNM
• 9 – Tuesday at Fresno State
• 13 – Dec. 28 vs. Colorado State
• t14 – Saturday at Wyoming
• t14 – Dec. 12 vs. San Francisco
• t14 – Nov. 30 at Saint Mary’s

Fewest FTs attempted for UNM
11 – Tuesday at Fresno State
16 – Nov. 30 at Saint Mary’s
t18 – Dec. 28 vs. Colorado State
t18 – Dec. 12 vs. San Francisco
20 – Saturday at Wyoming

Hot ticket…

Even before Monday night’s Rutgers upset over Purdue that made the UNM Lobos the final remaining undefeated team in the country, and certainly long before Tuesday night’s game at Fresno State, the UNM Lobos had already announced that their upcoming Saturday game in the Pit against UNLV is sold out.

It will be the first sell out in the 15,411-season Pit since March 2015 on the senior night of former UNM Lobo Hugh Greenwood.

And how’s this for a cool gesture?

Though still in Australia, Greenwood on Sunday night posted on social media a picture of his confirmation that he purchased two tickets to the game and will give them away this week via his Instagram page.

He wrote on social media: “Unfortunately I won’t actually be there on Saturday. Buying some tickets was my way of making sure it was a sell out and supporting the boys and the program. I’ll do some sort of giveaway leading up to the game this week on my Instagram. #GoLobos”

Attendance…

The announced attendance for Tuesday’s No. 21 New Mexico at Fresno State game was 4,868.

It was the largest home crowd of the season for the Bulldogs.

Not that I plan to do such attendance updates all season after every game, but since the Lobos did sell out their upcoming game against UNLV (15,411 coming on Saturday), marking the first sell out since March 2015, I figure I’d update this list one more time for some context on how turnout has been around the rest of the Mountain West.

Here are the announced attendances of all 13 Mountain West games so far since conference play started last week:

15,215 — Colorado State at New Mexico (Dec. 28)
12,414 — Air Force at San Diego State (Dec. 28)
8,113 — San Jose State at Boise State (Jan. 3)
7,911 — Boise State at Nevada (Dec. 28)
7,249 — San Diego State at UNLV (Dec. 31)
6,933 — Fresno State at Utah State (Dec. 31)
4,868 — New Mexico at Fresno State (Jan. 3)
4,823 — New Mexico at Wyoming (Dec. 31)
4,268 — San Jose State at Colorado State (Dec. 31)
4,165 — Wyoming at Fresno State (Dec. 28)
2,234 — UNLV at San Jose State (Dec. 28)
1,704 — Nevada at Air Force (Dec. 31)
1,461 — Utah State at Air Force (Jan. 3)

‘Large’ Harge…

ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption crew even got into the Lobo talk on Tuesday. Former Lobo Kendall Williams posted the video as he recorded it during the episode…

He said it…

“I think we took it for granted just how hard it is to really win. I think that’s part of the reason we came up short tonight. Obviously we’re gonna get back to it, get back to practice, just reconvene and get going again. At the end of the day, 14-1. Obviously we’re not undefeated, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of either. Right now we’re 2-1 in conference, gotta be 3-1 after UNLV.

“Losing happens. There’s a reason not very many teams go undefeated in conference or regular season. It’s hard to consistently win and tonight, props to Fresno State. They showed up and we didn’t. Congrats to them.” –UNM forward Josiah Allick

VIDEO: Pitino, Allick and Udeze after game…

Here are the Albuquerque Journal’s postgame interviews from Fresno with head coach Richard Pitino and players Josiah Allick and Morris Udeze:

Plus/minus…

Here are the Lobos’ plus/minus numbers from Tuesday’s game with minutes played in parenthesis:

0 Josiah Allick (34:57)
-1 Sebastian Forsling (5:26)
-2 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (38:22)
-2 Jaelen House (38:01)
-2 Braden Appelhans (0:20)
-3 Javonte Johnson (29:22)
-3 Morris Udeze (34:34)
-7 Donovan Dent (18:58)

Line ’em up…

The Lobos had 10 unique lineup combinations in Tuesday’s game and played eight players. Fresno State had 16 lineup combinations and also played eight players.

The Lobos have used the same starting lineup in all 15 games they have played this season.

Here’s a look at a few notable UNM lineups from Tuesday’s game, starting with the starters:

STARTING LINEUP AND BEST LINEUP
• Who: Jaelen House/Jamal Mashburn Jr./Javonte Johnson/Josiah Allick/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: +4 (38-34)
• Time on court: 20:03
• NOTE: If only the starters could have played the entire game. The only lineup combination that wasn’t a net-zero or minus point differential, the starting five, was on the court together for a shade over 20 minutes, the longest the starters have been on the court together in any game this season. The best run run with the unit was the start of the second half, one of the few times Tuesday the offense was flowing well for an extended stretch.

WORST LINEUP
• Who: Donovan Dent/Jaelen House/Jamal Mashburn Jr./Javonte Johnson/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: -2 (7-9)
• Time on court: 4:30
NOTE: The reality is that while only one lineup combination had a positive point differential for the Lobos on Tuesday, no combination on the court was ever just dominated and none were worse than -2 (two combinations had a -2 distinction).

Meanwhile, in Boise…

The Boise State Broncos needed some late-game heroics to fight off the upset at home on Tuesday night against the San Jose State Spartans, but that’s something Marcus Shaver has done plenty for them through the years.

Tuesday, he hit this 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in a 67-64 win.

Around the Mountain…

There were three games around the Mountain West on Tuesday, one more coming Wednesday then back to a full slate of five games on Saturday…

TUESDAY
• Utah State 77, Air Force 65
• Boise State 67, San Jose State 64
• Fresno State 71, No. 21 New Mexico 67

WEDNESDAY
• Colorado State at Nevada, 7:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. MT (FS1)

SATURDAY
• Nevada at San Jose State, 1 p.m. PT/2 p.m. MT (TheMW)
• San Diego State at Wyoming, 2 p.m. MT (CBS)
• Fresno State at Colorado State, 2:30 p.m. MT (TheMW)
• Utah State at Boise State, 4:30 p.m. MT (FS1)
• UNLV at No. 21 New Mexico, 7:30 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network)

Mountain West standings…

Through Tuesday’s games, here are the Mountain West standings…

2-0 Nevada
2-0 San Diego State
2-0 Utah State
2-1 Fresno State
2-1 New Mexico
2-1 San Jose State
1-1 Boise State
0-2 Colorado State
0-2 UNLV
0-2 Wyoming
0-3 Air Force

Home/road…

Through 13 games in league play, Mountain West home teams are 8-5.

• Dec. 28: Home 5, Road 0
• Dec. 31: Home 1, Road 4
• Tuesday: Home 2, Road 1

But the Spartans did have this…

So, while the unexpected 2-0 start to Mountain West play for the San Jose State Spartans hit a road block on Tuesday with a loss at Boise State, Omari Moore did have this play that made SportsCenter…

Stats and stats…

Here is a copy of the final stat sheet from Tuesday’s game: Fresno State 71, No. 21 New Mexico 67

And for those who prefer the digital version, here you go: Fresno State 71, No. 21 New Mexico 67

Grammer’s Guesses…

Both my guesses and my daughter’s coin flip picks went 1-2 on Tuesday. That puts me at 7-5-1 on the season and my daughter’s coin at 5-7-1.

Until next time…

Until next time, Save Mart Center, on the campus of Fresno State University…

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