Stevens: Neal, Lobos Expect Adjustments at Nevada
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/01/2014

New Mexico Lobos Mountain West Basketball – At Nevada

New Mexico (22-5, 13-2 MW) at Nevada (13-15, 8-7 MW)

When/Where: 4:05 p.m. (MT), Sunday – Lawlor Events Center -- Reno

 On The Air:  ESPN3 (internet only); 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network

 GoLobos.com: Game Story, Statistics, Post-Game Interviews

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

On the road, the start is huge for a number of reasons. First, you don’t want to fall into a hole with the home team playing in its comfort zone.

But for Lobo Coach Craig Neal the start also tells him something about his Lobos’ mindset. Is there fire in their intent or do they simply plan on turning up the talent at the right time?

Neal likes the talent.  He knows it is there and capable of winnings games. But he also knows the talent is better when sparked by intense motivation and seriousness of purpose from the get-go.

“It’s going to all be on the start,” said Neal of his Lobos’ trip to Reno to play the Nevada Wolf Pack.  “What’s going to be our mindset on how bad do we want it? Are we going to impose our will on them?”

The Lobos imposed their will on Nevada in The Pit and pounded out a 90-72 win.  The Reno Pack ran into an angry Pit Pack on that night.  The Lobos were coming off a 71-70 loss at Boise State.  It was an unfortunate slip because San Diego State had just lost at Wyoming.

The Lobos had a serious mindset.

The Lobos have not lost since and their Pit win over the SDSU Aztecs has the two teams racing toward the 2014 Mountain West title.  Neither team can afford a slip prior to the March 8 MW finale for both teams in San Diego.

The Lobos didn’t have much trouble with Nevada in Albuquerque and the Lobos have played well on the road this season.  Still, it’s the road and the Wolf Pack is looking for a marquee win to carry into the MW tourney in Vegas.

So, do the Wolf Pack have any new tricks up their sleeves?

“You have to think they are going to make some adjustments,” said Neal. “I’m not trying to crystal ball it, but what can they do to us? I’m sure they are going to zone us a lot.”

Neal says the threat of changes from Nevada also translates into possible adjustments by other teams. That also sets ups learning experiences for his Lobos. “What situation could we see that we haven’t seen and what situations do we need to work on to get better just in case it happens, so we’re not uncomfortable,” said Neal.

Teams try to make the other team uncomfortable. Get them to do something they don’t want to do. Take away stuff they want to do.  It’s difficult to take stuff away from the Lobos.

“They haven’t played in a week. It will be interesting to see how their adjustment is,” said Neal.

A few teams have thrown a zone in front of New Mexico’s Twin Towers of 6-9 Cameron Bairstow and 7-foot Alex Kirk – and then trapping the post out of the zone.  Teams also try to play Bairstow and Kirk physical while trying to avoid the whistles.

This opens up the perimeter, so outside shooting could be a key for the Lobos, if Nevada can slow down the Lobos’ inside production.

The perimeter definitely is important to Nevada on the offensive end. So is scoring.  They are last in the Mountain West in scoring defense allowing 73.7 points per game.  They are tenth out of 11 teams in field goal defense. They need to change that against the Lobos.

To beat the Lobos, you need to do a lot of things well and try to hang with them in a lot of statistical categories.  For sure, the Wolf Pack needs to shoot well.  Nevada’s Deonte Burton is No. 2 in the MW in scoring at 19.9 behind Bairstow’s 20.2 average. UNM’s Kendall Williams is in the No. 3 hole at 17.1.

“They are a tough task for us because they have a really good player in Burton, who arguably could be first-team all-league,” said Neal. “Burton can do a lot of things.  He is second in the conference in scoring and he runs their team.  We can’t let them get in transition and specifically him.”

UNM slowed down Burton in The Pit.  He scored 12 points, but only got off seven shots in 33 minutes played.  He did dish out eight assists and was under the weather that day, not traveling with the team but arriving into Albuquerque the morning of the game.  Cole Huff scored 18 as did Michael Perez.

The Lobos pounded the Wolf Pack inside getting 53 points from Kirk (29) and Bairstow (24). Bairstow added 11 boards and Kirk had five assists.  Williams scored only seven for UNM as the Lobo focus went inside the paint.

“It will be a tough game for us,” said Neal. “I think our guys are looking forward to it.”

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.