Struggling Lobos host Penn
Eleven games into Paul Weir’s inaugural run with the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, the Lobos had endured a pair of four-game losing streaks, were swept by New Mexico State, had been blown out three times and were sitting on a 3-8 record.
Ten games into his second season at UNM, the Lobos are technically better. At 5-5, their longest skid is a more modest three games, but the Lobos have again been swept by the Aggies and been hammered twice.
So what’s the biggest difference? Heading into Saturday’s home game in The Pit against Penn, it appears to be the demeanor of the man in charge of it all.
Normally a talkative and engaging sort, Weir has become more edgy as he has tried to make sense of what is a struggling club that is playing far below the promise it holds on paper. The team’s most recent loss, a nine-point setback Tuesday to North Texas, underscored the team’s primary issue at the moment: A complete inability to take advantage of its own size and not score under the basket and not defend at the other end.
“Last year we were so good at it and this year it’s, quite honestly, like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Weir said. “I’m going to be spending as much time on it, if not more, than we did last year, and I thought last year we got really good at finishing around the rim. And this year, gosh, I hoped Carlton [Bragg] getting back would kind of open some stuff up around there, but our ability to kind of finish around the rim is – I hope it’s just kind of some of those nights that are happening to come together.”
The going is anything but easy against Penn, the Ivy League’s top team. The Quakers (9-2) haven’t played since their Dec. 11 win over defending national champion Villanova.
“To get another quality team in here like that only helps,” Weir said. “But certainly it’s another good test for us.”
It remains doubtful whether or not the Lobos will have Dane Kuiper back in the lineup. The 6-foot-7 senior guard missed the last game and sat out most of the second half of the game before that. Weir said he has gotten so many bumps and bruises this season that he’s no longer playing like the Kuiper everyone expects.
If and when he returns is up to a joint decision by Kuiper and Weir, and Saturday’s game remains a mystery.
This is UNM’s first game against an Ivy League school since the third-seeded Lobos were stunned by Harvard in the opening round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. It is the only loss to an Ivy League school in program history. New Mexico is 14-1 against the eight schools from that conference, having played everyone at least once. The loss to Harvard was their only meeting with the Crimson; UNM is 1-0 all-time against Penn.
Saturday: Penn (9-2) at New Mexico (5-5), 2 p.m. in The Pit.
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