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Lobos’ struggles with speed their Achilles’ heel

January 15, 2019

It’s not a personnel thing. It’s a roster thing.

Or, to borrow an oft-used word from the school’s football coach, a schematic thing.

When asked about his team’s struggles against teams with fast, athletic guards, University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach Paul Weir said in his postgame radio address on KKOB-AM after last weekend’s loss at Colorado State that he saw the issue coming months ago.

During a preseason scrimmage against Northern Arizona, he said his team — rife with an overloaded front court that had six players standing 6-foot-8 or taller but without a true point guard — exposed its soft underbelly when paired against a club that lacks size but has plenty of talent in the backcourt.

“I was in a panic then and I’m in a panic now when we see smaller, quicker teams,” Weir said. “We’ve got to find something to counter those teams.”

The Lobos (8-8 overall and now 2-2 in the Mountain West) have lost its last two games facing teams that lack the size but own the speed. On Tuesday they’ll play their second straight road game with a trip to Viejas Arena and a date with San Diego State.

Neither team is playing particularly well after being picked to finish immediately behind Nevada in the conference’s preseason poll. The Aztecs (9-7, 1-2) are coming off a humbling and lopsided loss at Air Force.

Weir has spent considerable time in practice this season focusing more on what his team can do instead of scouting opponents. He suggested that, after the CSU game, that may change.

Same, too, for the team’s defensive mindset. The Lobos started the year in a man-to-man scheme, then switched to a zone around the holidays. Against Colorado State they scrapped the full court press and ran a traditional zone.

It continues a recent trend where Weir and the team are desperately grasping at straws to stem the tide of inconsistency.

“It kind of showed that it doesn’t matter whether we’re man, whether we’re zone, whether we’re this or we’re that, we just have issues with those kind of things,” Weir said. “I’ve got to somehow find a way to do a better job to counter that.”

Another issue is turnovers. The Lobos committed 17 of them against CSU and all but one came from the team’s guards. The mistakes have mounted in the last few games as the team has tried to transition to a more conventional approach of dumping the ball into the post to maximize the efficiency of center Carlton Bragg.

It led to more playing time for the team’s de facto point guard, senior Anthony Mathis, and more emphasis on doing things the right way by newcomers Keith McGee and Drue Drinnon. The trio has yet to settle into a routine of safely distributing the ball and facilitating the offense.

“Unfortunately it’s coming from our guards and that’s been, unfortunately, a pretty consistent theme,” Weir said.

Right now, he said, he’s open to trying anything to get the Lobos to turn things around and start winning more consistently.

“If there are weaknesses in that or weaknesses in me, we’ve got to find a way to eliminate those and just do what we can with this club,” Weir said. “Particularly against smaller, athletic teams. They have given us problems all year long.”

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