Nevertheless, the rate at which the New Mexico Lobos have been allowing opposing players to light up the scoreboard this season, especially from the 3-point line, is a trend defensive-minded coach Steve Alford can’t be too excited about.
While UNM is a perfect 5-0 on the season heading into today’s 6 p.m. tipoff with visiting Portland (2-2) in the Pit, the Lobos’ perimeter defense has struggled this season.
In Friday night’s 73-58 win over Idaho, the Vandals were paced by a career-high 20 points from guard Connor Hill, who hit a career-high six 3-pointers and kept the Vandals in the game far longer than the 14,741 fans in attendance were comfortable with.
“Any time you come back from a trip, especially an island (trip like the Lobos were on last week in the U.S. Virgin Islands) … it’s always going to take some time, and I thought the first half, (Idaho) really played well,” Alford said of his team’s somewhat flat performance on defense early in the game. “They made shots and they really took it to us.”
While Alford praised his team’s second-half defense, it was its inability to slow shooters on the outside that kept the game in doubt into the second half when Hill’s sixth 3-pointer put Idaho up 47-41 with 15:31 left in the game.
Of course UNM didn’t allow a field goal over the next 10 minutes and used a 24-2 scoring run to pull away for the win, but Hill’s performance was all too familiar.
During the Lobos’ conference championship run last season, UNM opponents made 6.1 3-pointers per game, hit double-digit 3-pointers twice in 35 games, shot just 30.9 percent from beyond the arc, and there were nine opposing players all season who hit four or more treys in a game.
In just five games this season, UNM has allowed 9.4 3-pointers per game, two of its first three opponents have hit 11 or more 3-pointers, opponents are making 38.8 percent from beyond the arc, and four opposing players have already hit four or more 3-pointers in a game.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Alford acknowledged his coaching staff would have to look at game film to address the perimeter defense.
“That’s something we’ve got to look at tape and we’ve got to continue to work on, because obviously we don’t want to give up the 3-ball to the level we’ve been giving it up,” Alford said.
Opponents’ 3-point shooting highlights versus UNM this season, and in the exhibition games, have included:
♦ Victory University forward Tyrell Hursey hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 28 points.
♦ New Mexico Highlands University hitting 12 3-pointers, with guard Stuart Sullivan hitting five.
♦ Davidson hitting 12 3-pointers.
♦ George Mason hitting 11 3-pointers – five from guard Sherrod Wright, who scored a season-high 22 points.
♦ UConn hit a season-high seven 3-pointers and guard Shabazz Napier hit a season high four.
♦ Idaho’s Hill hit a career-high six treys and scored a career-high 20 points.
As for tonight’s opponent in Portland, their best 3-point shooter is Tanner Riley, who is 8-for-16 on 3-point tries this season in four games. In his last game, Riley was 4-of-4 from beyond the arc in a win over Portland State on Wednesday.
TIP-OFF TIME: Tonight’s game vs. Portland starts at 6 p.m., not 7 p.m. as was published in Saturday’s Journal.
The game time was originally set for 7 p.m. but changed earlier this month when the game was picked up for TV broadcast by My 50 TV locally and Root cable TV.
UNM officials Saturday sent an email reminder to season-ticket holders about the start time.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal