The coronavirus chased the state’s marquee college basketball programs beyond our borders, dispatching New Mexico State’s men’s and women’s teams to Arizona and both University of New Mexico programs to Texas.
This week, it sent three of the four teams into a different kind of state — one of suspended animation.
On Monday, the NMSU men’s team, which played just one game the last five weeks, announced it had suspended team activities after a positive test for COVID-19 in its program. It’s the second pause of the season for the Aggies, who moved their base of operations to the Phoenix area in late November and played a pair of games after the Thanksgiving holiday before the initial shutdown.
The news got worse for NMSU on Tuesday when its women’s team, which moved from Tucson to Phoenix in the last month, had its conference-opening series against Dixie State canceled after Dixie State call off the remainder of its season due to the pandemic.
The NMSU women (2-5) were scheduled to “host” Dixie State on Friday and Saturday in Phoenix. The NMSU men (2-1) had their two games at Dixie State postponed but not canceled. Dixie State’s men will continue to field teams for the remainder of the year.
Aggies coach Chris Jans called the situation “frustrating” and said the team remains committed to the well-being of its players, testing three times a week since it moved to the Arizona Grand in Phoenix on Nov. 15.
UNM is no longer immune. The Lobo women’s program announced Tuesday afternoon that a positive COVID-19 test in its bubble forced the postponement of this week’s games at Utah State. The unbeaten Lobos (5-0 overall, 2-0 Mountain West) were scheduled to face the Aggies on Thursday and Saturday in Logan, Utah.
There is no word on when the games will be made up or when the Lobos will be cleared to return to full team activities. Per COVID-19 protocols, players and staff will stay in quarantine until further notice.
That leaves the UNM men as the only team still operational — and, depending on who’s doing the talking, that’s not necessarily a good thing. The Lobos (3-4, 0-4) are riding an ugly four-game losing streak in which all four losses have been by at least 10 points and the team’s woeful shooting has become a real concern.
After connecting on 49 percent of their shots in the first three games, all wins, the Lobos have shot only 35.6 percent in the four losses, a number bolstered by a solid shooting night in the most recent loss to Nevada. As a whole, they’re hitting just 29.5 percent from 3-point range in the four losses.
The most recent game, an 84-74 Nevada victory, gave UNM senior guard Keith McGee a reason to feel optimistic heading into Wednesday’s series opener against Utah State.
“It’s a completely new team,” he said. “Sometimes these things just take time, but if we just stick together and keep fighting and stay the course, I don’t see why we can’t, you know, beat all these other teams.”
The Lobos and Utah State (7-3, 4-0) will play Wednesday night — pandemic permitting — in an 8 p.m. tipoff and again at 7 p.m. Friday. After that is a road trip next week to UNLV, the only conference team yet to play a game in the league due to health concerns.
Goose egg: Only three MWC teams have yet to record a win in conference play; New Mexico (0-4), San Jose State (0-4) and coronavirus-stricken UNLV, which has yet to play a game. The Runnin’ Rebels are scheduled to host the Lobos in a two-game series Jan. 16-18 in Las Vegas, Nev.
TV time: Wednesday’s game will be aired nationally on CBS Sports Network. Friday’s game will be on Fox Sports 1.