Lobos rout No. 6 Nevada, 85-58
ALBUQUERQUE — There would be no choke this time.
After pulling a few rabbits out of its hat to complete a miraculous comeback the last time it visited The Pit, No. 6 Nevada had no such fortune Saturday night.
With the host Lobos wearing special yellow home uniforms with a simple Zia symbol on the front, the University of New Mexico steamrolled one of the country’s last remaining unbeaten teams with an 85-58 blowout in what UNM senior Anthony Mathis called, “A Pit game.”
“I can’t sit here and say that I knew we were going to win by 20,” he said.
Mathis poured in 27 points while Vance Jackson flirted with a triple-double in a game that was a rout from the get-go. Nevada led only twice, 2-0 and again at 3-2, but it trailed by double digits most of the night.
As the final buzzer sounded, Carlton Bragg heaved the ball 50 feet into the air as fans rushed the court. It took Lobos head coach Paul Weir
15 minutes to get up the ramp and into the locker room because dozens of fans came down the floor to shake his hand and pose for pictures. As soon as he made it back to his team, he was instantly doused by his players with a shower of bottled water.
Soaking wet when he took the podium for his postgame news conference, Weir said it would go down as his biggest win at UNM — not to mention the first dousing he got from any of the teams he has coached.
“It never stopped,” he said. “I thought it was just a couple of bottles and I thought I’d just kind of get out of the fray, and it kind of kept coming.”
The same could be said of UNM’s offense. The Lobos (8-6 overall, 2-0 in the Mountain West) opened a 12-point lead midway through the first half and were up by as many as 15 before the break. Bragg ignited the crowd with a pair of ferocious blocks, a huge dunk and aggressive play on the glass.
What the offense didn’t do, Nevada did to itself. The Wolf Pack (14-1, 1-1), one of four unbeaten teams in the country coming in, started the game by missing 15 of its first 19 shots and struggled badly from the free throw line.
“We weren’t our normal selves,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “We couldn’t make foul shots. We couldn’t make the ball. Extremely disappointed with the effort. I haven’t said that much in four years. I was disappointed in the lack of fight down the stretch.”
Musselman said UNM’s zone defense came as no surprise since every team the Pack faces plays zone. What did surprise him was the way his team came apart in the loud and rowdy Pit.
“We’ve played in some tough places already this year,” he said. “Again, I thought our guys, when we got down, they did not handle things the way they normally do. They were emotional. They didn’t stay composed. They fell apart. Then we didn’t compete.”
Nevada’s all-conference identical twins, Caleb and Cody Martin, combined for just 17 points and seven rebounds. They were 4-for-21 shooting with seven missed free throws. Lobo killer Jordan Caroline had a team-high 17, but he did so on 17 shot attempts while turning the ball over five times.
It was Caroline who sparked a rally from 25 down the last time Nevada visited the Pit. Down 23 with seven minutes left in the game, he drained a long 3-pointer to undoubtedly give Lobo fans flashbacks to 2017, but this time it took just 25 seconds to ease the hearts and minds of UNM faithful, because that’s all the time it took Makuach Maluach to square up a 3 of his own to make it 71-48. The margin kept growing, reaching 29 before the buzzer.
With fans reaching a fevered pitch several times in the first half and again as the outcome was no longer in doubt, Jackson said he took a moment to soak it all in.
“That’s why I came here,” he said. “That feeling is amazing. Like, words can’t even explain it.”
Jackson finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. He played loose and confident, attacking the rim on occasion and pulling up for a 3 on a 27-foot attempt in the second half.
“I think everybody expected him being Mountain West newcomer of the year, he was just going to come in and be this dominant player right away,” Weir said. “He’s a kid, and the conversations I’ve had with him, with his team, with his family, with whoever, like just stay the course.”
He has, and the dividends paid off Saturday night in what could be a defining moment in a season that appeared lost only two weeks ago. The Lobos were reeling, having dropped five or six and fans starting to turn on the team.
Now tied for the lead in the MWC and owning a win over a Top 25 team for the first time in four years, all seems right with UNM.
As he left this news conference, Weir said it was a time to savor the win, but also a time to get back to work Sunday morning and game plan for UNLV on Tuesday.
There was no chokeSaturday, but maybe just maybe there was a rebirth for a team that needed one.
Top 25 rarity: It was UNM’s first win over a nationally ranked team since Jan. 3, 2015, when it beat No. 24 Colorado State, 66-53, in The Pit.
Depth chart: The Lobos appear to have settled on what seems to be a seven-man rotation, with most of the playing time going to Mathis, Bragg, Jackson, Malauch and Dane Kuiper, with lesser roles for Corey Manigault and Vladimir Pinchuk.
Playing time continues to shrink for backup point guards Drue Drinnon and Keith McGee, as well as backup power forward Karim Ezzeddine. The trio had a combined 10 minutes in Saturday’s game.
Lobo women: UNM continues to play well, beating Nevada on the road, 66-64. The Lobos (12-1, 2-0 Mountain West) got 21 points from Aisia Robertson and 16 from Jayla Everett to remain atop the conference standings.
Nevada’s Da’Ja Hamilton missed a potential game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer.