The road doesn’t get easier.
Aside from the longest losing streak (six games) in 44 seasons, the UNM Lobos now head north to Boise, Idaho, tonight to face the hottest team in the Mountain West (Boise State has won 10 of its last 11 games) with arguably the two hottest players in the league – one (Derrick Marks) a clear cut favorite for the league’s Player of the Year and the other (James Webb III) a clear cut favorite for the league’s Newcomer of the Year.
“They can shoot the ball and they’ve got, I think, the best player in the league,” UNM coach Craig Neal said. “I don’t even think it’s close.”
And while Neal was referring to Marks, who has been averaging 22.1 points per MWC game for the Broncos (20-7, 10-4 MWC), his 6-foot-9 sophomore teammate has played himself into the conversation for all-league consideration.
Webb, who had 23 points and was 7-of-7 from the 3-point line when the Broncos pulled away from the Lobos in the Pit on Jan. 18 for a season-defining (maybe for both teams) 69-59 win, is coming off his best week as a college player.
The sophomore transfer from North Idaho College was named on Monday the MWC Player of the Week after averaging 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game last week in wins at UNLV and versus Nevada.
“They have gelled and have a good feel for where each other are,” said Boise State coach Leon Rice of Marks and Webb. “Derrick is seeing the floor so well and James cuts so well, Derrick can pass. … They’re playing great together. I think that’s the whole team though. They’re just more and more comfortable with each other.”
While that doesn’t spell good news for the ailing Lobos (14-13, 6-9 MWC), the reality is UNM’s opponent, no matter how good or how hot, matters much less right now than how they overcome their own mental obstacles – hesitancy on offense, defensive lapses late in shot clocks, and a general lack of confidence.
“It’s really tough. This is not how I wanted to go out,” UNM senior guard Hugh Greenwood said after Saturday’s loss at UNLV. “Having said that, there’s still three games left, then the Mountain West Conference Tournament. … We’re doing everything that we can. Coaching staff is doing everything that it can. It’s like I said, it’s just got to mean something. We’ve got to be tough. We play hard, but we’ve got to play smart.”
THEN AND NOW: As one would expect, when UNM was 6-3 at the halfway point of the league season, they were defending better and shooting better than they have since, a troubling trend for a team that in recent years had found the magic formula of playing its best basketball heading into the MWC Tournament.
Here is the statistical split for UNM’s first half of league play and since:
• First nine games (6-3 record): offense shot 46.4 percent overall (34.7 percent from 3-point range); defense allowed teams to shoot 38.3 percent overall (31.8 percent from 3-point range),
• Past six games (0-6 record): offense shot 38.5 percent overall (29.7 percent from 3-point range); defense allowed teams to shoot 43.8 percent overall (36.0 percent from 3-point range).
STUDENT TICKET ISSUES: Based on percentage of arena capacity, UNM already sets aside easily the smallest number of tickets for students per game (1,065 total, or 6.9 percent of the Pit’s 15,411 capacity). That is why some are so confused by the consistent empty seats in the student section for otherwise sold out UNM games.
Air Force and San Jose State only set aside 1,000 student tickets per game, but at the Academy’s Clune Arena (5,843 capacity) and SJSU’s Event Center (5,000), that accounts for 17.1 and 20.0 percent of the total arena capacity, respectively.
Saturday’s UNM loss to UNLV was short of a sellout by 266 tickets – all of which were unused, free student tickets. The total number of unused seats was actually 381, but 115 were sold on game day to walk-up customers.
Student fees still technically pay for the unused student tickets, but UNM only counts those actually picked up by students. And even with the student’s lack of interest, the Lobos still have more than a 2,000 seat-per-game cushion over the next closest program in the MWC in average home attendance (14,510 per game compared to San Diego State’s 12.414 per game, which includes 2,500 student tickets per game, or 20.1 percent of capacity at Viejas Arena).
IT’S COME TO THIS: When you’re in a six-game losing streak, pregame media notes packages put out by the sports information department don’t have a lot of positives left to include.
Of the six pregame notes appearing on the front page of today’s UNM game notes package is this: “Tuesday evening marks the showdown between two programs with food-based sponsorship of their home arena. Boise State plays in Taco Bell Arena while New Mexico plays in WisePies Arena aka The Pit.”
POLL POSITION: SDSU returned to the land of the ranked on Monday for the first time since December, checking in at No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25. The Aztecs were the only MWC team to receive a vote in the poll.