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Wolf Pack basketball opponent preview: Nevada begins road trip with New Mexico

Nevada v New Mexico Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The Nevada Wolf Pack kick off a four-game road trip with two games versus the New Mexico Lobos this weekend. The opener will be on Thursday, Dec. 31 at 6 p.m. PST and the latter will be on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Both games will be televised, with the first being televised on Fox Sports 1 and the second on CBS Sports Network.

Due to COVID-19 protocols in New Mexico, the games will be held in Lubbock, Texas instead of Albuquerque, where it was originally scheduled to be held.

Nevada head coach Steve Alford will face off against his former program for the third time since departing the Lobos, where he spent six seasons. Alford compiled a 155-52 (.749) with a 68-26 (.723) record from 2007-13, winning six titles (four regular season; two conference).

Nevada assistant Craig Neal also served as New Mexico’s head coach (2013-17) after Alford departed for UCLA, posting a 76-52 (.594) with one conference championship in the 2013-14 season.

New Mexico head coach Paul Weir, in his fourth season with the program, was a former assistant under Alford from 2005-07 at Iowa. Weir is 55-49 (.529) with the Lobos.

Nevada leads the all-time series 8-7 and possess a current three-game win streaks over New Mexico.

Nevada (6-3, 1-1) vs. New Mexico (3-2, 0-2)

When: Thursday, Dec. 31 at 6 p.m. PST

Where: Lubbock, Texas

TV: Fox Sports 1

Online: Fox Sports Go

Matchup history: Nevada leads 8-7

Last meeting: Nevada won 88-74 (Feb. 18, 2020)

Breakdown:

The Lobos were bombarded by Boise State in their first two conference games, losing by an average of 30.5 points.

They are fourth in the conference in scoring, averaging 74.2 points per game. New Mexico is sixth in the Mountain West in field goal percentage (.442), but have struggled from the 3-point line, posting the second-worst percentage from outside (.289). Against Boise State, the team shot just 33.6 percent with a 25.0 percent 3-point percentage — both marks substantially below average.

Makuach Maluach is the Lobos’ top scorer at 15.2 points per game. He is shooting 50.0 percent from both inside- and outside the arc. Maluach has led the team in scoring in four of their first five games.

In the two games versus Boise State, Maluach was held to 10.5 points on 31.8 percent shooting — including a mere eight points on 2-of-10 shooting (0-of-3 from deep) in the latter contest.

The 6-foot-5 forward is posting team-highs in 3-pointers (1.0) and rebounding (7.4), while placing second in steals (1.0) and blocks (0.8) and third in assists (1.0) per game.

New Mexico’s only other double digit scorer is Rod Brown (10.0 ppg). Brown, a former Wichita State transfer, is shooting 65.6 percent from the floor without logging a 3-point attempt yet. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 4.8 rebounds, 1,0 assists and 0.4 blocks in 20.2 minutes per contest.

Weir has used a deep rotation through these first five games. Nine players have logged at least 13 minutes per game while 10 players average at least 10. Maluach averages the most with 25.2 minutes per game. Nobody else eclipses 22; four players — Jeremiah Francis, Saquan Singleton, Bayron Matos and Brown — average at least 20 minutes per game.

Meanwhile, Nevada is coming off a season-split versus the Air Force Falcons. Nevada took the first game 74-57, while dropping the second 68-66. It was the first conference series of the season in the Mountain West.

The Pack are No. 7 in the Mountain West in scoring at 71.4 points per game. They are shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 33.5 percent from deep. In the two contests against Air Force, they shot 46.5 percent with a dismal 22.2 3-point percentage. In its most recent game, the team shot 2-of-24 from distance, missing its final 12 attempts.

It is giving up just 67.2 points on 39.3 percent shooting and 31.7 percent from deep through its first nine games.

Nevada is led by guard Grant Sherfield, who has posted team-highs in points (15.7 ppg), assists (5.4 apg) and steals (1.7 spg). Sherfield is shooting 42.6 percent from the floor and 39.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Desmond Cambridge and Zane Meeks round out the Pack’s double-digit scoring. Cambridge, who won the Mountain West Player of the Week earlier this month, is averaging 14.4 points per game on 39 percent shooting.

Cambridge is shooting 63.6 percent of his shots from 3-point range on a 32.0 percent clip. The former Brown transfer is hoisting over eight attempts from outside per game. He is also averaging 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Meeks is averaging 10.9 points on 49.3 percent shooting and 40.7 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-10 forward leads the team in offensive and total rebounding — posting 2.4 offensive boards and 6.6 total boards per game.

Prediction:

  • Nevada: 76
  • New Mexico: 71

After a disappointing home loss to Air Force, Nevada is going to have a strong bounce back affair with New Mexico. They last played on Dec. 21, so the team has had over a week to iron out its miscues on both sides of the basketball. Weir’s teams are accustomed to press after makes, getting up in opponents’ jersey to force them out of rhythm — which could pose as a challenge for Nevada’s lead ball handlers: Sherfield, Cambridge and Kane Milling. Additionally, the Pack will have to continue making strides defensively. In its six wins, Pack opponents have shot just 34.3 percent with a 27.6 3-point percentage; in its three losses, opponents have shot 50.6 percent with a 41.7 percent 3-point percentage. There has been a stark contrast in that department. New Mexico, who ranks No. 215 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ranking, will have to be more efficient from both inside- and outside the arc to upset Nevada.

Projected Starters

No. 5 Nevada Wolf Pack (16-9, 10-7)

Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
G 25 Grant Sherfield Soph. 6-2 18.3 3.7 6.1 43.5 36.9
G 4 Desmond Cambridge Jr. 6-4 16.3 4.4 2.4 41.6 35.4
G 14 Tre Coleman Fr. 6-7 5.7 3.0 1.8 42.5 37.1
F 20 Daniel Foster Fr. 6-6 4.3 2.6 1.5 48.6 45.5
F 5 Warren Washington Soph. 7-0 9.6 5.8 0.8 57.4 ------ (0-1)

New Mexico Lobos (3-3, 0-3)

Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
Position Number Name Class Height PPG RPG APG FG% 3P%
G 11 Jeremiah Francis Soph. 6-1 3.2 2.5 2.0 19.0 5.6
G 2 Saquan Singleton Jr. 6-6 7.5 5.3 2.8 40.5 0.0 (0-2)
G 10 Makuach Maluach Sr. 6-5 15.2 6.7 1.0 48.5 43.8
F 5 Rod Brown Jr. 6-8 10.7 5.8 1.5 57.1 --------
F 1 Bayron Matos RS-Fr. 6-9 7.7 5.3 0.7 47.5 --------

Additional links:

Nevada game notes: https://bit.ly/3hxvvPx

New Mexico game notes: https://bit.ly/2Jz2zdl