Wyoming Coach Larry Shyatt is a former Lobo assistant coach, who was a Lobo under former head coach Gary Colson.
New Mexico Lobos Basketball -- On The Mountain West Road
Who/When: 7 p.m. (MT), Wednesday – New Mexico at Wyoming
On The Air: ESPN3; 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Statistics, Quotes, Video Interviews
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
Laramie can lull you, confuse you, fool you, from the moment you bus into this high-plains Wyoming cowtown.
Laramie looks more like a destination place for rodeo types or cross-country skiers. It is a quiet town, a laid-back, country town of 30,000-plus citizens living loose at 7,165 feet. There might be more ropes in Laramie than Nike LeBron shoes.
But when you step into Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium (AA, Double-A), you had better be taking your ball seriously. Wyoming loves its Cowboys and the Cowboys can be pretty ornery when it comes to defending their AA.
“It’s a tough place to play,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal.
The Lobos are serious about this trip into Cowboy country because they know they have to be. They were the targeted team heading into the 2014 Mountain West wars and although No. 13/15 San Diego State is playing lights out, the Lobos are still a team that other MW teams need to beat.
For sure, the Cowboys need to beat the Lobos. Wyoming (9-5, 0-1 MW) lost its conference opener on the road 61-58 at Nevada and needs to win at home to meet the demands of a formula team loosely eye in order to become league champs.
You beat the lower-level teams on the road. You try to pull out a road win against at least half the top-shelf teams – and you defend your home court like a mean, mother bear standing in front of wide-eyed cubs.
You don’t lose at home.
That’s the Cowboys’ creed and call to battle at 7 p.m., Wednesday when the 10-3 Lobos step into the hostile AA.
“It’s always a challenge when you go to Laramie,” said Neal. “It’s always a fight because his (Coach Larry Shyatt) teams play great defense and they value possessions. We’ll have to go up there and play our best basketball.”
A good thing for the Lobos is that they have several Lobos, who have been to Laramie previously and know what waits inside the Double-A. The Cowboys do not always have the most talented team in the MW for an obvious reason: It’s not all that easy to lure top-level basketball talent to Laramie.
But the Cowboys have good talent and have an outstanding player in 6-foot-7 Larry Nance Jr., who averages 16.1 points and 9.1 boards. He shoots 56 percent from the floor.
“He (Nance) causes problems because of his athletic ability and his length,” said Neal. “He can make a jump shot. He is playing at a high level. Nance is one of the best big men in the conference with his maturity.”
The Cowboys might not have the same recruiting edge that comes with destination cities such as San Diego or Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys can’t do all the little stuff that helps win basketball games. They do them better than a lot of teams.
Coach Shyatt teams are fundamentally sharp in Basketball 101. They honor possessions. They rebound. They run offense. They play with honest effort. The Cowboys also use tempo and defense to take opposing teams out of their offense. They want teams to fall into impatient decisions – rush things, push too hard, take bad shots.
“They limit possessions by the pace they play on offense and how they guard you,” said Neal. “They will try to limit the number of chances we have to score.”
The Shyatt Cowboys will do a lot of things well, but there is a fundamental question facing all teams that face the Lobos: Can you slow down the Lobos’ “Big Three,” of Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams.
This Lobo trio is special. UNM has three candidates for MW Player of The year. All three have impressive resumes with distinct qualities that make for winning basketball.
The 6-9 Bairstow tops the UNM scoring charts with a gaudy 20.8 average. He is a hard fist off the dribble, finishes in close, and hits the pull-up jumper. He is difficult to defend. He is shooting 55 percent from the floor.
Kirk averages 14.8 points and 9.6 boards and is invaluable on defense – and invaluable to Bairstow. Kirk is a brick wall in the paint. He blocks shots (38). He disrupts offenses with his 7-foot frame and his length. He might be the most valuable defensive player in the conference. He also lures in defenders creating holes and shots for other Lobos.
“I think everyone will try to trap (double team) our post,” said Neal.
Williams is averaging 18.8 points while dishing out a team-leading 5.3 assists per game. The days when Williams’ wild charges at the rim were a 50/50 proposition are long gone. He finishes.
“I think he is playing the best basketball he has played since becoming a Lobo,” said Neal. “He definitely is playing at a high level. Kendall Williams is a lot better in shot selection in plays to the rims, in passes he’s made.
“He’s a lot more solid in playing the game at a high, high speed and a high, high level, under control, while having a feel for what’s going on out there.”
Nance Jr., isn’t a lone Cowboy. The 6-2 Riley Grabau averages 11.6 points and hits 54 percent from long range. Josh Adams, a 6-2 guard, has an 11.4 average and shoots 49 percent. The 6-9 Derek Cook Jr. shoots 68 percent. These are good shooters taking good shots out of a patient offensive. The Cowboys have solid outside scorers and solid inside scorers.
They also have 3-point potential off the bench in Jerron Granberry (43 percent) and Trey Washington (48 percent).
Wyoming shoots .488 percent as a team. UNM shoots .442 percent. Both teams yield .395 percent shooting on defense.
The Cowboys’ strategy is simple enough: Stay out of foul trouble, hit some treys, control the tempo, rebound, do what they can against UNM’s “Big Three.”
Last year the Cowboys often worked the clock down and tried to find a percentage shot in the fading seconds. Too often they passed up a good shot in order to work the clock. Too often they forced up shots. This year Neal says they are a tad more aggressive on offense.
“They are getting out a little bit more in transition, not a lot,” he said. “We’ll try to speed them up a little bit.”
In the Double-A, that can be a tough thing to do.
New Mexico Lobos 2013-14 Roster