The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team will celebrate Thanksgiving in style; on national TV in Sin City.
The Lobos (4-1) will face Alabama-Birmingham in the first round of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational at 5 p.m. Thursday. The game will be broadcast on FS1, giving the nation — what parts of it aren’t watching football or sleeping off a hefty dose of turkey and gravy, that is — a chance to see what coach Richard Pitino has done with a program clearly headed in the right direction.
UNM will play either Towson or San Francisco in Friday’s final round.
“We’re not there to party. That’s not why we’re going to Las Vegas,” Pitino said after Monday’s win over Western New Mexico, a win that kept the Lobos unbeaten in The Pit and left them two-thirds of the way to last season’s win total. “We’re going there to see if we can beat a terrific UAB team and then whoever’s out in front of us.”
Pitino’s plan for this week is simple: Improve on sharing the ball and passing it around a little more. He said a lack of assists have been an issue, as has the lack of rebounding. The Lobos have outrebounded their last two opponents but Pitino said only grabbing five offensive boards on 23 missed shots against Western New Mexico on Monday night is a problem.
That said, he doesn’t want this road trip to be an air-tight work experience. He said he wants the players to have fun without bogging them down with rules and protocols.
Most importantly, he said, he wants his guys to stay healthy.
The Lobos have been without projected starter Saquan Singleton all season due to setbacks stemming from a bout with the coronavirus. Emmanuel Kuac has also been sidelined and unable to play while the team’s leading scorer to this point, Jaelen House, has been nursing a sprained ankle.
Pitino said Singleton and Kuac will be game-time decisions Thursday. House will likely play after sitting out the win against WNMU. Pitino said House participated in the team’s shootaround prior to that game but the coaching staff opted to keep him out in preparation for UAB.
The Blazers (4-1) are the preseason pick to win Conference USA. Collectively they represent one of the toughest challenges in the nonconference schedule.
Not many ways to celebrate Black Friday than a little college football. The Lobos wrap up their season at home at 11 a.m. Friday, hosting a Utah State team with a lot on the line.
The Aggies (8-3 overall, 5-2 in conference) are in a three-way tie with Air Force and Boise State atop the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. Utah State would win the division by beating the Lobos coupled with a Boise State loss against No. 21 San Diego State.
At 3-8 overall, UNM (1-6 in the MWC) is merely playing out the string. The Lobos have dropped eight of their nine games but could, technically, jump into a tie for fourth place with some help from other teams.