LUBBOCK, Texas — Just when it seems it can’t get any worse, something comes along to prove it can.
In what will go down as another in a growing line of dismal performances for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, Friday’s 82-46 loss to Utah State at the Rip Griffin Center will rival some of the ugliest setbacks the Lobos have endured in the last generation.
It wasn’t as bad as the 34-point performance the Lobos had eight years ago at San Diego State because at least that team won 29 games and was considered a Final Four contender. (Remember Harvard, anyone?)
It wasn’t as embarrassing as the 35-point shellacking the Lobos took two seasons ago at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, a game the despised Aggies of New Mexico State led by as many as 44 before calling off the dogs.
And it wasn’t as painful as the scarring losses to Harvard or Eastern New Mexico, the Cup Game or anything else Lobos fans want to dredge up.
This one was just ugly. The pride and joy of New Mexicans far and wide looked overmatched and entirely unenthusiastic, rushing ugly shots, failing to secure position on rebounds, missing one defensive assignment after another.
It took 15 minutes for the Lobos to reach double digits, a wholly unsurprising stat considering they missed 11 of their first 12 shots. The team received a ferocious, profanity laced tongue-lashing from head coach Paul Weir that rang through the empty arena during the first media timeout. By then, Utah State held a 14-2 lead and had, for an intents and purposes, started the process of putting UNM out of its misery.
“It was, uh, alarming,” Weir said afterward.
The Lobos had begun a number of games this season with quick starts. This time, not even close.
Weir was hoping a surprise announcement before Friday’s game would help kickstart some energy. He told the team it would be returning to Albuquerque on Saturday morning ahead of next week’s road trip to UNLV. He thought he news might pick the players up.
Aside from a two-day stop at home over Christmas and a few days during finals in mid-December, the players have had zero exposure to the state they represent.
“There’s no handbook to this,” Weir said. “This is a first-time situation for everybody. You know, I told them the news [Friday] and thought that might have an impact, and clearly it didn’t.”
For the second straight game, the Lobos were held to 18 points at the half. To start the second half, Weir sent a clear and unmistakable message, starting four freshmen and keeping the veterans — including seniors Makuach Maluach and Keith McGee — on the bench. Maluach was the only player in double digits with 13 points, but the trend of poor post play continued for freshman Bayron Matos. The hulking 6-foot-9 center was no match for Utah State’s Neemias Queta, who blocked three shots.
In two games against him, Matos logged 38 minutes and scored just three points with seven rebounds. Backup center Valdir Manuel wasn’t much help. He followed an 0-for-6 night against Utah State on Wednesday with seven points and four boards, making him one of the more efficient Lobos in what was a remarkably inefficient night.
The team missed 42 of 61 shot attempts and was the standard ice-cold shooting from distance. The Lobos were 5 for 21 from 3-point range. Struggling point guard Jeremiah Francis made both of his 3s and had eight points, but his three assists constituted nearly half of UNM’s total of just eight.
Weir didn’t make any players available for the postgame news conference. He spoke afterward about mixing things up, of giving players who show the most want-to more playing time.
“Right now I don’t think this is really about our opponent. This is more about ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to play hard, we’ve got to find a way to compete, we’ve got to find the guys that are willing to go out and do that and are ready, physically and mentally to kind of persevere through this situation that we’re in.”
At 3-6 overall and 0-6 in the Mountain West, the Lobos are alone in last place in the conference standings. All six losses have been blowouts, the closest of which was 10 points to Nevada in what is starting to look like one or the best performances of the season, if only by default.
“We showed that maybe some of us aren’t quite ready for that, so we’ve just got to find the guys that are ready to go compete,” Weir said.
GAME NOTESDominance: The Aggies (9-3, 6-0) had four players in double figures and outrebounded UNM by a comical 53-22 margin.
Dwindling time: It was just a few weeks ago that Weir said sophomore Kurt Wegscheider was one off the top players on UNM’s roster, that he and forward Rod Brown had more energy and passion than their teammates — at least in the early going.
Wegscheider logged just six minutes in Friday’s game, taking (and missing) just one shot in a scoreless stat line. Brown played a team-high 27 minutes and had just four points with one rebound and two turnovers.
Adios, Lubbock: The Lobos planned to say goodbye to Lubbock on Saturday morning. On Friday, there was a bit of concern that it might come sooner; Lubbock Christian’s women’s basketball team was supposed to play a home game Friday afternoon against Texas A&M-Commerce but had it postponed that morning due to unspecified COVID-19 concerns.
LCU athletic director Scott Larson said there was no viral threat inside the team’s facility.
. and he said his men’s and women’s teams called off this weekend’s games as a precaution that had nothing to do with UNM’s situation.