Moribund Lobos limp into San Jose
The end is near for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team.
For better or worse, the Lobos have been reduced to a team just playing out the string in what could long-ago have been declared a disastrous season of unfulfilled expectations and woefully disappointing play.
On Tuesday night at the southern coast of San Francisco Bay, they’ll shake off the rust of six days off to visit Mountain West Conference cellar dweller San Jose State. The Spartans are, by all accounts, the low-hanging fruit for anyone desperate for a win.
SJSU (3-23 overall, 0-14 in the league) has lost 16 straight conference games and is one of the worst major-college teams in the country. The Lobos picked up one of their two wins in the last five weeks by drilling the Spartans by 32 points in Albuquerque on Feb. 13.
The Spartans have lost 17 straight overall, are winless this season on the road and haven’t beaten a Mountain West opponent in nearly a full year. Not since they upset Utah State last Feb. 28 have they won inside the league.
That’s all great news for UNM. Losers of six straight road games by an average of 18 points per contest, the team has shifted into building-for-the-future mode of late, giving extended playing time to players with a future in the program and giving more offensive looks to those loaded with promise.
It means plenty of offense for sophomores Vance Jackson and Keith McGee, and junior Corey Manigault. Jackson has never had an issue finding shots. He is second on the team in attempts taken and used that aggressiveness to get to the line. He leads the team in free throws attempted and made, and is second on the team in scoring, rebounding and tops in assists and steals.
McGee has entrenched himself as the team’s primary ball handler the last 11 games, averaging two dozen minutes per night while scoring double figures five times.
Manigault has taken 29 shots the last three games, more than any three-game stretch of the season. He has averaged 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds during that span, getting at least 20 minutes of playing time in all three games.
Then there’s this: UNM is 14-1 all-time against San Jose State and 3-0 against the Spartans since Paul Weir became head coach. What’s more, the Lobos have never lost on the road to the Spartans.
UNM has had its home finale against Boise State on March 6 moved up two hours to a normal 7 p.m. tipoff. Originally slated for a TV broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, it will now stream on the internet on ESPN3. … Three of UNM’s five conference wins have been by at least 27 points.