McGee blossoming under Weir as Lobos face rematch with No. 6 Nevada
Right around the time the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team slipped into a tailspin a month ago, head coach Paul Weir lamented the fact that his team lacked a small guard with afterburners to make things happen.
About two weeks ago, Keith McGee emerged from the shadows to become that guy.
The 6-foot-3 junior college transfer who spent most of his first season with the Lobos trying to find his role in the offense has become a reliable scorer and better defender of late. He had just three double-digit scoring nights in the Lobos’ first 14 games but has had four more in his last five outings.
His minutes are up, too. He has been on the floor at least 20 minutes in each of the last seven games, including 24 in a career night Tuesday against San Diego State. The sophomore started and finished with 19 points, the most in his UNM tenure.
He is averaging 10.7 points and 2.3 assists the last seven games.
“If I get going, then it’s like cool, alright let’s get going,” McGee said. “Now my teammates, they’re just going to follow up. Let’s all go. We’re here.”
It’s a welcome addition to a team that has sorely and notably lacked a reliable point guard. At 10-12 overall and 4-6 in the Mountain West, the Lobos have been waiting on this kind of output from McGee. It’s why they brought him to UNM after leading South Plains College to the JUCO national championship.
“We need consistency from the guards and Keith, he’s a talented player,” Weir said. “We need that consistency from him if this is going to work.”
The Lobos’ chances of making any kind of noise the rest of the season depend on whether or not McGee succeeds, and if backup point guard Drue Drinnon can facilitate the offense. The team’s starting point guard, Anthony Mathis, is not a true point.
With Mathis emerging as one of the top 3-pint shooters in the country, opposing Mountain West Conference defenses have suffocated him. In a sense, teams were daring the Lobos to find someone, anyone other than Mathis to run the offense and provide scoring from the outside.
McGee isn’t the shooter Mathis is, but he’s easily the fastest player on the team and he’s using that to his advantage.
“Like coach said, just being consistent,” McGee said. “It can’t just be one game you do good. You just need to bring it every game. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
The Lobos will certainly need it in Saturday’s road trip to Nevada. At 22-1 overall, the sixth-ranked Wolf Pack are running away with the MWC and asserting themselves as a legitimate national power.
The Pack also has that one loss. It came Jan. 5 in The Pit to the Lobos, a humbling 27-point blowout in which they had their worst shooting night of the season.
Caleb Martin had a miserable night. The National Player of the Year candidate was just 2-for-14, finishing with just eight points.
McGee barely played in that game. He got just two minutes and, statistically speaking, did nothing. No shots, no rebounds, not even a personal foul or turnover.
His emergence started the very next game. He has scored at least eight points in six of the last seven games, opening things up for Mathis to be more of a shooter than a facilitator.
Weir isn’t ready to anoint McGee as the go-to guy just yet. As anyone who follows this team knows, playing point guard in Weir’s offense means more than statistics. It means developing thick skin, playing relentless defense and playing with your hair on fire without making mistakes.
“I don’t want to say I’ve earned it yet,” McGee said. “I still got a lot to prove.”
Women: The Lobos fell out of first place in the Mountain West with Wednesday’s loss at San Diego State, but UNM returns home for a Saturday matinee against Nevada. They’ve won 11 straight in The Pit, where they’re averaging 5,091 fans to rank 17th in the country.
Baseball: UNM held a first-pitch gala Friday night with ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian serving as a special guest speaker.
The Lobos will hold their annual media day Tuesday at Santa Ana Star Field. They’ll open their season Feb. 15 in Surprise, Ariz., against Oregon State in the first of four games in the Surprise Tournament. They’ll also face Minnesota, Gonzaga and have another meeting with Oregon State.
Men’s basketball: New Mexico (10-12, 4-6 MWC) at Nevada (22-1, 9-1), 4:05 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nev.
TV: CBS-Sports Network
Radio: KKOB-AM 770
Live stats: www.GoLobos.com
Women’s basketball: Nevada (8-13, 4-6) at New Mexico (18-3, 8-2), 1 p.m. in The Pit
Radio: KNML-AM 610
Live stats: www.GoLobos.com