The New Mexican

The steep learning curve for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team didn’t sit well with coach Richard Pitino on Saturday night.

His Lobos had just lost 87-76 to Colorado at the CU Events Center, dropping them to 1-1 after a season-opening win at home earlier this week.

Three Lobos fouled out and the Buffaloes outrebounded UNM 47-27, but those weren’t the things that bothered Pitino afterward.

“It had nothing to do with foul trouble, it had nothing to do with rebounding,” Pitino said. “We didn’t have everybody fighting to get a win. I’ve never seen a group that won six games last year; we’re down two, we’re down three, and it’s just, they’ve never tasted it, they don’t understand how to win just yet. Really, really, really embarrassed not by really how we played, because we’re neck and neck on the road. It’s that when things don’t go our way, we don’t have the mental and physical toughness to fight through it.”

The Lobos got another stellar game out of guard Jaelen House. His team-high 22 points came with three 3-pointers and a team-best four assists. It also came with five fouls, the last of which came on a defensive call with 2:25 left and Colorado clinging to a 76-71 lead.

House has now scored at least 10 point in all four halves the Lobos have played through two games, but he was joined on the bench by Taryn Todd and Birima Seck, each of whom fouled out. Seck had a team-high six rebounds and Todd was one of four Lobos in double figures with 12 points and game-high seven steals.

With most of the current roster new to the program this year — sophomore Jevonte Johnson and walk-on senior Jordan Arroyo were the only returners to get any playing time Saturday — Pitino had said in the past it would take time for the team to adjust.

Not so much after this game.

“We know we could have beat them,” Pitino said. “But we got in our own heads, whether it’s somebody missed you on a pass, whether you didn’t like a ref’s call, whatever it is. Really was very, very embarrassing and the gotta grow up and they got to learn from it.”

The Lobos trailed 42-36 at the midway point, getting solid play from a backcourt that included a 20-point night from Jamal Mashburn Jr. and 10 points from Johnson. The frontcourt struggled as big men Seck, Gethro Muscadin, Jay Allen-Tovar, Sebastian Forsling and Arroyo combined for just 12 points, six turnovers and 15 rebounds.

Colorado (2-0) never trailed in the second half, getting a double-double from forward Jabari Walker and a team-high 20 points from Keeshawn Barthelemy.

The Lobos were left shorthanded for Saturday’s game as guards Saquan Singleton and Emmanuel Kuac are out with injuries and center Valdir Manuel continues with disciplinary issue. It forced Johnson, typically a shooting guard, to start at power forward against CU’s bigs.

Pitino said it’s all part of the maturation progress for a team that has to adopt the shallow learning curve as the season progresses. At times during Saturday’s game he said it felt as though it was like playing four-on-five or even three-on-five because of mental miscues or lack of effort.

“If we can learn and mature, we could have a good team,” he said. “But we got a long way to go to get to that.”

The Lobos return home for their next game, hosting Grambling State in The Pit on Monday, the first of three straight at home leading into Thanksgiving week.

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