New Mexico vs. UNLV: Three Keys to a Lobos Victory
New Mexico hosts a Nevada-based team for the second straight game
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How can New Mexico continue its recent success?
There is no denying that through its first eleven games (one of which was an exhibition game), New Mexico was among the worst defensive teams in the country. In fact, they allowed Division II Northern New Mexico to notch 66 points during that game.
But things have changed.
In its last three contests, New Mexico has held opponents to less than 60 points per game. Granted, its first opponent it had held to the sub-60 mark was NAIA school University of the Southwest, but the Lobos have shown in the last few games that they can muster up some defense, especially in their dismantling of conference favorite Nevada.
If you missed that dismantling, here are some highlights:
In the preseason, I posed the question of whether the Lobos could compete with the Wolf Pack, despite the injury of Jaquan Lyle. Based on the talent, size and athleticism of their roster, I thought that they would be able to hang tight, and certainly challenge Nevada for the Mountain West’s crown that, for three years, has been lost to a new brand of wolf.
But I thought that full court, man to man pressure defense would be key to that success. Later, I also thought New Mexico challenging Nevada would be a near-impossible feat looking back on the Lobos’ disappointing non-conference showing.
Of course, much of that was wrong.
Instead, Paul Weir switched his team to a modified 2-3 zone of sorts -something many fans had been pleading for the coach to do – and found the recipe for bringing the talent out of his players this season.
Anthony Mathis has epitomized what Weir can do, but now players like Vance Jackson and Carlton Bragg are showing what they intended to do when they transferred to the Cherry and Silver and sophomore Makuach Maluach looks to be finding a rhythm again.
What’s really surprising is that the success has come with just three weeks of practicing zone defense and increased emphasis on inside-out play, both initially implemented after New Mexico’s loss to North Texas.
Since losing to Penn 75-65 at home, the Lobos have adjusted well to the change, which will again be the key to beating their next opponent, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
Here are the keys to Tuesday’s match-up:
1. Keep UNLV off of the offensive glass.
Statistically, UNLV is not a good offensive team. It’s fairly average defensive team in that respect too. So how have they managed to have even eight wins?
In part, it’s the offensive rebounds.
While UNLV is near bottom of the conference in both two-point and three-point field goal percentage, and opponent field goal percentage, they are first in the conference, thus far, in offensive rebounds (and total rebounds for that matter). The second (and third) chances have also allowed them to lead the conference in field goal attempts.
The Runnin’ Rebels have the height to match up with the Lobos, but it will be New Mexico’s job to ensure that they aren’t out-performed on the glass. Oddly enough, their defensive switch to zone has helped with that.
2. Keep playing and improving that zone (no mental let-downs).
As noted by many, the New Mexico zone defense was key to beating Nevada, which looked lost and frustrated as the game progressed.
As UNLV is currently shooting a measly 29.1% on the season from three (328th among division I teams), it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to pack the paint and force the Rebels to do something they haven’t done much of this season.
At the same time, it will be key for the Lobos to maintain the focus and passion that they played with against Nevada, and not just assume a win against UNLV after beating a top ten foe.
3. Contain Joel Ntambwe.
UNLV took a hard hit to personnel with the season ending injury of Shakir Juiston. At 6-7, Juiston is a force and plays much bigger than his size suggests, amassing 16 and 19 rebounds respectively (both resulting in double-doubles) in games against Southern Utah and Valparaiso.
In Juiston’s absence, 6-9 freshman Joel Ntambwe has been instrumental in the Rebels’ 2-0 start to conference play, scoring in double figures in all games since and including the game in which Juiston was injured (a Dec. 8 loss at Illinois). He recorded four double-doubles in that span, one of the most impressive coming against Wyoming on Jan. 5.
In that game, Ntambwe tallied 31 points and 10 boards and went 3-5 from three-point land. His three-point success in that game is no anomaly either – the rising star for UNLV is making 40.4% of his threes on the year.
Assuming New Mexico can shut down the paint and Ntambwe reasonably well, UNLV may be too hard pressed to find production from beyond the arc as only guard Bryce Hamilton shoots the ball over 30% from distance.
WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 8 — 9:00 PM MT/8:00 PM PT
WHERE: Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit; Albuquerque, NM (15,411)
STREAM: SlingTV – Get a seven-day free trial
RADIO: New Mexico | UNLV
ODDS: New Mexico -4