ALBUQUERQUE — Don’t bother scanning the stat sheet for the “bounceback” category.
It doesn’t exist anywhere outside of Paul Weir’s mind.
The University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach keeps tabs of such things in his own way and, to him, the Lobos are doing pretty well in that respect.
UNM shook off the fatigue of four straight road games in three different states over two time zones to hold off Montana, 72-63, on Sunday afternoon in The Pit. It wasn’t the prettiest of games and it’s one the Lobos probably should have won in a rout.
As Weir said later, however, it’s one of those games his team from last season probably doesn’t win. UNM followed a long bus ride to UTEP and New Mexico State with two games in New York last week. They followed that with a holiday week while trying to settle back at home.
“It was obviously a long haul but that’s over with now and we’ve got to let that go,” Weir said. “That all being said, to not be where we really want to be physically and grind out a nine-point win against a pretty good basketball team is encouraging. We’ve used this before but that’s a game we probably drop in the past.”
The Lobos (7-2) now head into their Mountain West Conference opener Wednesday against Boise State, a two-game stretch that includes a road game Saturday at Wyoming as part of the Mountain West’s abbreviated launch with two of the 18 league games being played in December and the rest starting New Year’s Day.
UNM was far from its best Sunday, missing 13 free throws and having a hard time figuring out how to make ends meet against a Montana lineup that went mostly with four or five guards most of the way.
The height advantage allowed Lobos big man Carlton Bragg to have himself a day. The UNM center had 20 points and 14 rebounds to go with two blocked shots. He also hit the first 3-pointer of his career, a looping shot from the right wing in the first half that was nothing but net.
“I think it was my time,” Bragg said. “Just getting a little feel for it, man. It just went up, I felt it go in. Oh, yeah, that’s what turnt me up. Amazing, though. There’s more to come, but not that many.”
Bragg had been 0-for-8 in his time as a Lobo from 3-point range until that make. He made four as a freshman at Kansas and is now 5-for-20 all time from the outside.
Guard JaQuan Lyle finished with 16 points for the Lobos but he never seemed to settle into a groove after suffering a head injury in the first half that left him on the bench for a few minutes. He missed half of his 12 free throw attempts.
Montana trailed 32-26 at the half but took a 50-49 lead midway through the second half. That’s when four straight Bragg free throws and a Lyle 3-pointer opened a 56-50 margin for UNM. The Griz (3-5) never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
“We just look a little tired right now,” Weir said. “It was a long trip, it was a long haul.”
With Montana’s lack of size opening opportunities for jump shots outside, Weir ditched the man-to-man defense in the second half in favor of the zone. It worked as the Griz made just 7 of 22 attempts in a ball-control offense that turned it over just five times.
“We just didn’t have the legs and the juice I would have wanted,” Weir said. “I don’t think it was a mental thing or an engagement thing. I think our practices and our preparation for this game were good. We just didn’t have a lot of burst tonight.”
Zane Martin added 11 points for UNM while Makuach Maluach had nine.
Including Sunday’s contest, the Lobos will play eight of 10 games at home through the second week of January. Over that span the team will have final exams and another holiday break with seven days off.
“We’re getting there but we just gotta grind through it,” Bragg said. “This is the life we chose.”
Bench warmer: Keith McGee barely played, logging just 6 minutes without scoring. Weir said it was a coach’s decision, that the team’s matchups didn’t fit what McGee brought to the table.
McGee sat alone away from the rest of the team at the end of the bench. He pulled a red hoodie pulled over his head, grabbed a manager’s stool and positioned himself at the base of the ramp a few feet from the nearest teammate.
Slump extended: Vance Jackson’s struggles continued. The 6-foot-9 junior took four shots from beyond the 4-point line, missing all of them. He is now 8-for-35 from distance this season but 10-for-23 from inside the arc, including making both of his tries on Sunday.
Not so charitable stripe: As mentioned before, the Lobos missed 13 free throws in Sundays’ game. That’s nearly twice as many as Montana had in total attempts (seven) for the entire game.
It’s the second time in the last four games they’ve missed double-digit free throw attempts; the loss at UTEP being the other. They’re still shooting 71.2 percent as a team, however.