Stevens: Neal's Lobos Look To Rebound vs. Nevada
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/14/2014

New Mexico Lobos Mountain West Basketball – In The Pit  

Who/When: 4:05 p.m. (MT), Saturday; Nevada (12-13, 7-5 MW) at New Mexico (18-5, 9-2 MW)

 On TV: CBS Sports Network (DirecTV 221, Comcast 274/838 HD, DISH 158)

On The Radio: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network

GoLobos.com: Game Story, Statistics, LoboTV, Quotes

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.

An opportunity was lost, a road game was lost, but the sun still rises, the sky has not fallen, Alex Kirk is still 7-foot-1, Cameron Bairstow is still a beast with a first step, and the New Mexico Lobos are still in the Mountain West hunt

With more opportunities in front of them.

18-5. 9-2.  Not bad.  Craig Neal’s Lobos look to pad those numbers by one with a 4:05 p.m., opportunity Saturday in The Pit when the Nevada Wolf Pack invades in Mountain West action.

It’s going to be a heck of a stretch run. Join the party.

“My guys will bounce back. They are a veteran group,” said Neal. “We just have to bounce back and play ball.”

If you are wondering how the Lobos and the Wolf Pack matched up in their first meeting – well, don’t look. The Lobos have played Colorado State twice, Wyoming twice, San Jose State twice, Boise State twice, New Mexico State twice, but Saturday’s run is the Lobos’ first against Nevada.  And vice versa.

Neal said earlier this week that “conference is hard,” and the Wolf Pack probably won’t argue. They are coming off a 75-67 Reno loss to Fresno State and have lost three straight MW games – just like Boise State had prior to their 71-70 win over the Lobos on Wednesday night.

Nevada might be in a small rut, but this is not a bad team.  They are 7-5 in the Mountain with solid road wins at UNLV and at Fresno State. They have six road wins overall. They are a bit up and down, but also threw out a three-game MW winning streak over San Jose State, Wyoming and UNLV. They lost 105-85 to that Steve Alford Bruin bunch.

The Wolf Pack is a team to take seriously because the Wolf Pack can score and like a lot of MW teams they are out of the regular-season race, but trying to build some confidence and momentum for the MW Tournament in Las Vegas.

A win over the Pit’s Pack would be helpful.

 The Lobos are a game behind San Diego State in the chase for the 2014 regular-season title and UNM could have tied the Aztecs with a win at Boise on Wednesday.  Coach Neal says he stresses the importance of the next game, but doesn’t hide from his Lobos where they stand in that race, because they need to look at every opponent with serious intent.

The carrot dangling in front of the Lobos’ nose right now is a championship.

“That’s part of the process. It’s late in the year where that matters,” said Neal whose Lobos have seven MW games left on their 2014 schedule – two with SDSU.

 Most observers of MW ball will say that title will go to either Aztecs or Lobos, depending on the outcome of their two upcoming games – and depending on any other stumbles that might come along the way.  SDSU stumbled at Wyoming. UNM stumbled at Boise. It happens.  Now, let’s see who roars back with strong legs.

UNLV, with four league losses, plays New Mexico on Wednesday in Vegas. The Rebels are the closest team to SDSU and UNM. Wyoming and Nevada are next in the pecking order with five losses each.

The Wolf Pack (12-13 overall) likely will come into The Pit with an edge of reckless abandon. If they can shoot well, contain the Lobos inside, not let Kendall Williams go off – well, they probably are thinking upset.

Deonte Burton is the big gun for this Reno Pack.  The 6-foot-1 senior averages 20.4 points a game shooting 48 percent from the floor.  He gets double-digit help on the board from 6-8 Jerry Evans Jr., (13.4) ,6-8  Cole Huff (11.8) and 6-3 Michael Perez. 

Those four starters average 31.6 to 38.8 minutes a game with most of the other minutes shared by five other Wolf Pack players. The Pack has some inside height in 6-foot-9 AJ West, who averages 26.2 minutes of playing time and 8.4 points in league games.

Nevada can score.  They aren’t as consistent on the other end and are last in the MW in scoring defense at 74.1 points per game. They are second to last in field goal percentage defense allowing a shooting percentage of .441.

It’s tough to come into The Pit and beat the Lobos without defense.  “I don’t worry about my offense,” said Coach Neal. “But Nevada probably doesn’t worry about its offense either. They have some talented scorers.”

Nevada’s keys to spoiling the Lobos’ return to their Pit is a bunch of the same old stuff: Shoot well, contain the UNM Twin Towers, don’t let Kendall Williams beat you, hit the boards a bit harder, play defense a high level of intensity.

Not easy things to do in The Pit vs. Neal’s Lobos.

Nevada leans to a four-player attack off the perimeter and probably would prefer an up-tempo game. The Lobos also play well at that pace.  Transition defense will be a key for both clubs.

Burton tops the Mountain West in scoring, but a Lobo is in his shadow.  Burton is at 20.4 and Cameron Bairstow is at 20.2.   UNM’s Williams scores at a 17.6 clip and Alex Kirk averages 14.0 points per game.

Nevada’s top board man is Evans Jr., at 6.0 – behind Kirk’s 8.7 average and Bairstow’s 7.0 average.  UNM is bigger inside and needs to rule the glass.

The Lobos also have conference leaders in field goal percentage: Bairstow at .565 percent.  Williams is the league’s top assist man at 5.0 a game and the best ball thief averaging 1.8 steals per game. Hugh Greenwood paces the MW in assists-to-turnovers ratio. He has 63 assists and 16 turnovers.

Burton is the key member of the Nevada Pack. He is one of the top all-around players in the MW.  He tops the Pack in scoring and he dishes out 3.9 assists per game.  He averages 1.7 steals per game, good for the No. 3 spot in the MW stats.

There is a reason Burton tops his team and the Mountain in minutes played (38.8). The Pack does not want to see him on the bench.

The Lobos don’t want to see him with the ball.