Emptying the Notebook: UNM's 2nd half defense continues to regress in MWC play - Albuquerque Journal

Emptying the Notebook: UNM’s 2nd half defense continues to regress in MWC play

UNM Lobo Morris Udeze, center, tries to get a rebound against UNLV during theiir game Saturday night in the Pit. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)
Here are some extra notes, quotes, stats, tweets, videos and whatever else I could empty out of the old notebook after Saturday’s 84-77 Lobos loss to visiting UNLV in the Pit:

So, about that improved defense…

Sure, the Lobos are defending better than they did last season. But let’s not pretend the bar was set particularly high during that 13-win campaign that included a first-day exit from the Mountain West Tournament.

And UNLV’s 46-34 second half showing against the Lobos on Saturday — kick started by that 9-0 run to start the second half that the Lobos never recovered from — seems to highlight a rather troubling trend for the Lobos since Mountain West play began on Dec. 28.

First, let’s remind those who need it that UNM finished the 2021-22 season ranked 243rd in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com and are currently 95th nationally in defensive efficiency, one of the main reasons they started the season 14-0 and, until Monday morning’s new polls come out, are still a ranked team.

That’s some serious, genuine improvement. But it’s improvement on a 13-win team whose only shot at winning games most nights was to get into high-scoring shootouts and hope they had more offense than the other team because defense was, well, rather optional much of the time.

The explanation, or excuse if you’re feeling a little more critical, offered about it last season was that the Lobos of 2021-22 were simply an incomplete team — one that simply didn’t have the bigs on the inside to defend, which had a trickle down affect that hurt the defense at all five positions on the floor.

Now, fast forward to this season. The Lobos have the bigs they need and that has, in fact, helped at all five positions on the court at a given time.

But it’s regressing, of late. And come March, people aren’t going to be satisfied just knowing the defense at least got better than a bad 2021-22 season. No, the Lobos defense better get the team past the conference tournament this season or a 14-0 start will turn into a season remembered somehow as a disappointment.

Take a look at the recent regression, albeit while the competition in general has improved…

Nonconference opponents scoring 1.03 points per possession (12 games)
• 1.066 PPP — Southern Utah (Nov. 7)
• 1.042 PPP — South Alabama (Nov. 11)

Mountain West opponents scoring 1.03 points per possession (4 games)
• 1.151 PPP — UNLV (Saturday)
• 1.136 PPP — Wyoming (Dec. 31)
• 1.076 PPP — Fresno State (Jan. 3)
• 1.030 PPP — Colorado State (Dec. 28)

Now, let’s take that a step further and break it down by halves, because it’s been the second half in particular that the Lobos defense has seemed to pretty much go into hiding.

Of the 32 halves of basketball played by the Lobos this season, only four have included an opponent going off for 1.2 points per possession or better. Three of those have been in the Lobos past four games since Mountain West play began:

• 1.400 PPP — Wyoming, 2nd half (Dec. 31)
> UNM outscored Wyoming 44-42 points in the 2nd half

• 1.355 PPP — Saint Mary’s, 2nd half (Nov. 30)
> 42-42 in the 2nd half

• 1.286 PPP — Colorado State, 2nd half (Dec. 28)
> CSU outscored UNM 45-39 in the 2nd half

• 1.278 PPP — UNLV, 2nd half (Saturday)
> UNLV outscored UNM 46-34 in the 2nd half

That’s an average of 43.8 points allowed in those four second halves.

Sure, more games than not, I would side with the Lobos if the rest of the season just comes down to who can outscore the other in the second half. But postseason hopes for the Lobos rest not on just reverting back to last season’s “let’s try to outscore ’em” every game approach and will actually require UNM to get back to getting stops on a regular basis, especially in the second halves of games.

The gamer…

Here is the game story I filed from the Pit on Saturday night…


The announced attendance for Saturday night’s UNLV at No. 21 New Mexico game in the Pit: 15,424

It was officially the largest attendance since an announced crowd of 18,018 in the Pit on March 9, 2009, against Utah.

That date is significant in that it was the final Pit game before the 2009-10 Pit renovation that reduced seating capacity to 15,411 in the Pit.

And it should also be noted that all the sell outs since the renovation prior to Saturday were announced as being 15,411, whether they really were all that exact number or not.

As for how things are going around the league with attendance, here are each of the announced attendance figures so far through 19 Mountain West games played, including the top two easily being in the Pit and even UNM’s two road games putting the Lobos in four of the top 11 games played so far in conference action in terms of announced attendance:

15,424 — UNLV at New Mexico (Jan. 7)
15,215 — Colorado State at New Mexico (Dec. 28)
12,414 — Air Force at San Diego State (Dec. 28)
12,007 — Utah State at Boise State (Jan. 7)
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)
6,102 — Colorado State at Nevada (Jan. 4)
4,868 — New Mexico at Fresno State (Jan. 3)
4,823 — New Mexico at Wyoming (Dec. 31)
4,346 — San Diego State at Wyoming (Jan. 7)
4,268 — San Jose State at Colorado State (Dec. 31)
4,196 — Fresno State at Colorado State (Jan. 7)
4,165 — Wyoming at Fresno State (Dec. 28)
2,871 — Nevada at San Jose State (Jan. 7)
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)

Rick is Wright…

We had the pleasure of a Rick Wright in the Pit game on Saturday. And as he always does, he put the words together a lot of Lobo fans, though clearly not all of them, were feeling in the closing minutes of Saturday’s game as people started hitting the exits in a game that was clearly far from over…

A number to know: 21 (again)

UNLV scored 21 points off 16 Lobo turnovers on Saturday. That’s the second-consecutive game UNM’s opponent has gone off for a season-high 21 points off 16 turnovers.

What’s more troubling for the Lobos is the trend seems to go beyond two games. It’s the third time in four league games that UNM’s opponent has had 17 or more points off turnovers. And five of the past six games have overall have included UNM’s opponents scoring at least 16 points off turnovers — a high number considering UNM still ranks relatively well nationally in turnover rate (55th best at a TO% of just 16.8% with the national average being 18.9%).

Most points off TOs vs. Lobos:

• 21 — UNLV on Saturday (off 16 Lobo turnovers)
• 21 — Fresno State on Tuesday (off 16 Lobo turnovers)
• 18 — Southern Utah on Nov. 7 (off 12 Lobo turnovers)
• 17 — Colorado State on Dec. 28 (off 10 Lobo turnovers)
• 17 — Northern Colorado on Nov. 27 (off 14 Lobo turnovers)
• 16 — Prairie View A&M on Dec. 20 (off 19 Lobo turnovers)
• 16 — Iona on Dec. 18 (off 16 Lobo turnovers)

And while UNM outscored UNLV 13-10 in the points off turnover department in the first half on Saturday, UNLV outscored UNM 11-3 in points off turnovers in the second half.

At least the Lobos can hang their hat on having the prettiest points off turnovers from Saturday with this play to end the first half — a play started by a Josiah Allick steal and outlet pass to Javonte Johnson, who then fed it to Morris Udeze on the fast break for the dunk…

Speaking of Mo…

Lobo forward Morris Udeze had his fourth double-double of the season on Saturday with the following huge stat line:

• 22 points
• 8-of-12 FG (66.7%)
• 13 rebounds (5 offensive)
• 2 assists
• 4 turnovers
• 3 steals
• 1 block

Included in his big night was this big dunk, which the Lobo bench (as you can see by Richard Pitino’s reaction) certainly felt could have also had a foul called…

Again, those freebies cost the Lobos dearly…

UNM gets 22.5% of its scoring this season from the free throw line, which ranks 23rd out of 363 Division I teams and is second highest in the Mountain West, behind only Nevada (24.9%, 6th nationally).

So when the whistle isn’t a big part of the game, or at least isn’t going the way of the Lobos, it can be a problem.

But at least they always had the magic of the Pit, right? The place that while all the fans hate the referees, the Lobos had actually been averaging this season almost eight more made free throws per game (21.3) versus in games away from the Pit (13.6). And UNM had averaged more than 11 more attempts in the Pit vs. away from the Pit (29.2-18.0) entering Saturday’s game.

Those are some serious home cooked free throw numbers that the Lobos have been loving all season.

Then came Saturday, where for the second consecutive game, the Lobos couldn’t rely on the referees to put them on the free throw line nearly as often as they were used to, and even when they got there, they didn’t convert like they had been most of the season.

UNM FT shooting
• SATURDAY: 14-of-22 (63.6%)

• In Pit before Saturday: 21.3-of-29.2 (72.9%)
• Away from the Pit: 13.6-of-18.0 (75.6%)

K.J. Jenkins update…

The Lobos really could have used him to space the floor and provide some steady leadership in stretches of Tuesday’s loss at Fresno State. But the next best thing for UNM was having senior co-captain and sharp-shooter K.J. Jenkins back on the court Saturday against UNLV…

Jenkins went for 9 points on three made 3-pointers — three of UNM’s five made triples — and was, again, an asset off the bench for the Lobos.

But the injury front wasn’t all good for the Lobos on Saturday. Freshman shooting guard Braden Appelhans aggravated a thumb injury suffered in the preseason and didn’t suit up on Saturday. Nothing official has been announced, but from talking with him before the game, it didn’t sound as though the injury will be a quick heal.

And it’s too bad for the Appelhans, family, too. They were on hand to watch their guy get some minutes.

A number to know: 122-7

Saturday was just the seventh time ever the Lobos have lost in the Pit as a ranked team.

The Lobos’ Pit record now in games the they have been ranked is 122-7, and 1-1 this season.

House honored before game…

House entered Saturday’s game with 1,009 points scored in college — 229 points at Arizona State and 780 at New Mexico. He passed that special milestone in Tuesday’s loss at Fresno State…

Here are Houses’s stats for points, assists and steals for Saturday, his UNM career and his collegiate career:

Jaelen House points
• Saturday: 12
• This season (16 games): 267 (16.7 ppg)
• As a Lobo (2nd season/47 games): 792 (16.9 ppg)
• College (4th season/98 games): 1,021 (10.4 ppg)

Jaelen House assits
• Saturday: 2
• This season (16 games): 77 (4.8 apg)
• As a Lobo (2nd season/47 games): 216 (4.6 apg)
• College (4th season/98 games): 282 (2.9 apg)

Jaelen House steals
• Saturday: 4
• This season (16 games): 48 (3.0 spg)
• As a Lobo (2nd season/47 games): 116 (2.5 spg)
• College (4th season/98 games): 188 (1.9 spg)

As for those steals, his 116 as a Lobo in just 47 games already has him at No. 17 all-time in steals:

UNM’s career steals leaders
1. Kelvin Scarborough — 235

16. Jamal Fenton — 117
17. Jaelen House — 116
18. Kenny Thomas — 112

He’s also now just 36 steals away from Hunter Greene’s single-season record of 84 steals set in 35 games played in the 1986-87 season.

And then there’s ‘bad House’…

For the second consecutive game, maybe third depending on how you viewed last weekend’s game at Wyoming, we really saw the “bad Jaelen” moments that were far more prevalent last season but had almost all but vanished most of this season.

House now has 42 turnovers this season (at 2.6 per game, that’s still way down from last season’s 3.4 per game). And he’s had 13 of those 42 turnovers in just the last three game alone — 10 in the past two games.

House assists:
• UNM’s 14 wins: 74 (5.3/game)
• UNM’s 2 losses: 3 (1.5/game)

House turnovers:
• UNM’s 14 wins: 32 (2.3/game)
• UNM’s 2 losses: 10 (5.0/game)

House assist-to-turnover ratio:
• UNM’s 14 wins: 2.31-to-1.0
• UNM’s 2 losses: 0.3-to-1.0

Familiar faces…

More than 50 former Lobo basketball players and manages were honored and recognized by name, one-by-one, on the court at halftime of Saturday’s game.

And here is a group picture they took together on the court, as posted by the UNM Alumni Letterman Association:

There were a few recents who couldn’t make it that UNM put some videos together as replies to this tweet HERE:

He said it…

“It’s one of the best venues and atmospheres in college basketball. And I think it just got everybody going from there at the start. We got off to a little bit of a slow start but the guys took a deep breath. …

“Any win is a great win. They all feel great. In this atmosphere, it’s more fun with 15,000 people screaming and yelling the whole time. Those games are fun, especially when you can come out on top, they’re just that much more fun.” — UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger

Hey, referees have feelings, too…

Head official Larry Spaulding was in the Pit on Saturday, calling his first game since hurting his hamstring on Nov. 29 in the UC Irvine at San Diego State game in Viejas Arena. (I erroneously tweeted below it was an ankle injury, but corrected it on social media).

Up next: No rest for the Lobos…

MONDAY: Oral Roberts (13-3) at UNM (14-2), 7 p.m., the Pit

Back when the Lobos still hadn’t lost a game and were of the opinion they should try to replace both lost NMSU games, they added a nonconference game for Monday night in the Pit against Oral Roberts.

Oral Roberts entered the weekend with an NCAA NET ranking of 42 and got a 74-71 buzzer-beating victory on Saturday night at home against Missouri-Kansas City to improve to 13-3 overall and 4-0 in Summit League action.

And their 6-foot-0 high-scoring star guard Max Abmas (pronounced Ace-mas), can do things like this…

VIDEO: Postgame with Pitino and Udeze…

Here is the video I put together after Saturday’s game in the Pit of postgame interviews with UNM Lobo coach Richard Pitino and forward Morris Udeze (due to tight deadline for the print edition, I was neither much of a participant in these postgame interviews in terms of questions nor was I able to get any of the postgame interview with Lobos senior guard K.J. Jenkins):


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

+8 Birima Seck (6:28)
+1 Jaelen House (28:04)
-2 Jamal Mashburn Jr. (21:28)
-2 K.J. Jenkins (25:45)
-5 Javonte Johnson (27:54)
-10 Morris Udeze (36:55)
-12 Josiah Allick (34:36)
-13 Donovan Dent (18:50)

Line ’em up…

The Lobos had 15 unique lineup combinations in Saturday’s game and played eight players. UNLV had 18 lineup combinations and played nine players.

The Lobos have used the same starting lineup in all 16 games they have played this season.

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

• Who: Jaelen House/Jamal Mashburn Jr./Javonte Johnson/Josiah Allick/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: -1 (14-15)
• Time on court: 7:05
• NOTE: The Lobos didn’t have much of a chance to get into their normal rhythm because of foul trouble with the guards, and the unit you could see this with the most was the starting five, which saw a season-low 7:05 court time together on Saturday and scored just 0.875 points per possession when they were on the floor.

• Who: Jaelen House/K.J. Jenkins/Javonte Johnson/Birima Seck/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: +7 (12-5)
• Time on court: 4:46
• NOTE: Twelve points in under 5 minutes on the floor together is great offense. This group had 2.459 points per possession and 4.2353 points per minute. Not a unit you’ll see on the floor together often I don’t anticipate, but it sure looked good Saturday.

• Who: Donovan Dent/K.J. Jenkins/Javonte Johnson/Josiah Allick/Morris Udeze
• Point differential: -7 (5-12)
• Time on court: 4:46
NOTE: The Lobos starting guards were out with foul trouble. So, while Dent and Jenkins on the court together isn’t something that never happens, it’s fairly rare. Either House or Mashburn are almost always on the court for the Lobos, and it’s clear as to why. Teams tend to focus their defensive schemes around knowing both of those guards are multi-faceted threats.

Meanwhile, up the road at Moby…

It was a double dip at Moby Arena on Saturday in Fort Collins with a women’s game and a men’s game.

In the opener, the UNM Lobo women’s team fell to 1-2 in Mountain West play, falling 76-65 to Colorado State.

My Journal colleague Ken Sickenger had this write up from the UNM/CSU women’s game:

And what about in Laramie?

They Pokes did it again.

Down multiple starters, as they were last weekend against the Lobos, they managed to very much be in the game until the final minute against preseason Mountain West favorite San Diego State before falling at the end, 80-75.

Around the Mountain…

There were five games around the Mountain West on Saturday, one nonconference game on Monday with a Mountain West team, then four league games Tuesday and a fifth on Wednesday…

• Nevada 67, San Jose State 40
• San Diego State 80, Wyoming 75
• Colorado State 79, Fresno State 57
• Boise State 82, Utah State 59
• UNLV 84, No. 21 New Mexico 77

• Oral Roberts at New Mexico, 7 p.m. MT (NON-MOUNTAIN WEST GAME)

• Air Force at Colorado State, 7 p.m. MT
• Fresno State at San Jose State, 7 p.m. MT
• Wyoming at Utah State, 8:30 p.m. MT
• Nevada at San Diego State, 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT

• Boise State at UNLV, 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT

Mountain West standings…

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

4-0 Nevada
3-0 San Diego State
2-1 Boise State
2-1 Utah State
2-2 Fresno State
2-2 New Mexico
2-2 San Jose State
1-2 UNLV
1-3 Colorado State
0-3 Air Force
0-3 Wyoming


Through 19 games in league play, Mountain West home teams are 11-8.

• Dec. 28: Home 5, Road 0
• Dec. 31: Home 1, Road 4
• Jan. 3: Home 2, Road 1
• Jan. 4: Home 1, Road 0
• Saturday: Home 2, Road 3
• TOTAL: Home 11, Road 8

Meanwhile, in Aggieland…

The New Mexico State Aggies lost at home on Saturday night to Cal-Baptist, 70-61. The loss drops NMSU’s record to 7-9 overall and 0-4 in the WAC — the first time they were ever 0-4 in the WAC and the program’s first four-game losing streak since the 2013-14 season.

Stats and stats…

Here is the postgame stat sheet from Saturday night in the Pit: UNLV 84, No. 21 New Mexico 77

And if you prefer the digital version of the stats: UNLV 84, No. 21 New Mexico 77

Grammer’s Guesses…

The Guesses went just 2-3 on Saturday, while my daughter’s coin flip picks went 3–2. That means through 19 games so far this season, me and the damn coin my 13-year-old daughter uses to pick games each have matching records of 9-9-1.

Home » Sports » Emptying the Notebook: UNM’s 2nd half defense continues to regress in MWC play

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