UNM Basketball: Lobos face Alford, Neal for first time in Reno

A return to The Pit, and a change of pace, gave the Lobos (16-5, 5-3) exactly what they needed to break their two-game losing streak. It didn’t hurt that their opponent was San Jose State, either.

With four starters out, it would have been easy to pick against the Lobos, especially since they lost to San Jose State in their first meeting this season. Corey Manigault and Zane Martin put the team on their backs, though, and carried them to an easy 27 point victory. The offense physically looked different due to the players that were available to Head Coach Paul Weir, but it also looked different in the eye test.

The Lobos played at a slower tempo than had been seen in recent losses. The change of pace allowed them to slow down and conserve some energy. After looking completely gassed in the losses to UNLV and Colorado State, the Lobos looked fresher at the end of the game. With only eight scholarship players expected to be available for Saturday’s game, fresh legs can only benefit the Lobos.

They’ll certainly need those legs in their next two games.

On Saturday, the Lobos take on the Nevada Wolf Pack(12-8, 5-3); and get their first shot at former coaches Steve Alford and Craig Neal. Alford, who bolted for the beaches of California mere days after signing a contract extension with UNM, is in the first year of a 10-year contract with Nevada and has a chance to get career victory 600 against the Lobos.

Although none of the current players have any ties to Alford, the fans haven’t forgotten the past.

Alford’s team is currently tied for third in the Mountain West along with the Lobos. A win for either team could help break the deadlock in the middle of the conference. Led by Jalen Harris and Jazz Johnson, the Wolf Pack is averaging 74.5 points per game while only allowing 71.0. Even with two of the top scorers in the conference, Nevada has dropped three of their last five games.

The Lobos have their work cut out for them against Nevada. Reports indicate that JaQuan Lyle and Vance Jackson will both miss the game on Saturday, leaving the team without their leading scorer. The Lobos showed earlier this week that they could play stronger defensively, and that will be the key to stopping the Wolf Pack. In 6 of 8 losses, they were held to 70 points or fewer. A slower pace, like what was shown against San Jose, will limit the shooting opportunities for Nevada and allow the Lobos to control the pace.

Even with a strong defensive performance, the short-handed Lobos will need someone to step up and contribute on the offensive end. Manigault, Martin, and Makuach Maluach have another opportunity to show what they can do under pressure.

Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. (Mountain) on Saturday from the Lawlor Events Center in Reno. The game will be available to watch live on CBS Sports Network.