It was just January 1st when New Mexico upset San Diego State 68-62 in San Diego. At the moment, Lobo nation must have liked their chances about being potential threats in the Mountain West Conference. Since then they have struggled mightily, leaving UNM fans wondering what is going on with this team. First there was the loss to Utah State in Logan. Then the absurd meltdown at home against Nevada. And now, the Lobos have dropped three straight, losing to UNLV (9-9, 2-3) 71-66.
Point guard Jovan Mooring paced the Runnin’ Rebels with 19 points and Ache Ofoegbu chipped in 14 points and 8 boards to lead UNLV. The Lobos countered with 17 points from Dane Kuiper and 13 points from Elijah Brown.
UNM actually shot better from the field (48% to 38%) and from the charity stripe (82% to 72%) than UNLV, but it wasn’t enough to get it done. UNLV knocked down five more threes than the Lobos and utilized a late 10-2 run to pull off the victory. They also out-rebounded New Mexico, and outplayed them in the second half. Perhaps most importantly, they kept the Lobos off of the foul line, where they score a good chunk of their points.
This was yet another game that UNM blew a double-digit lead after grabbing an early 25-14 lead. Kuiper came out hot and knocked down his first six shots to jumpstart the team. But their inability to put the game out of reach continues to doom the Lobos. The nervousness among those in attendance last night was palpable as the Lobos’ lead slipped away. These constant failings have some wondering if Coach Neal’s job is on the line. In any case, it was clear that the team was still bothered by the Nevada loss from the past weekend. UNLV seized on that vulnerability and fought their way to victory.
If there is a silver lining for New Mexico, Kuiper’s emergence continues to show the potential of this team to not be so top-heavy. Even with a quiet night from Tim Williams, the Lobos could’ve won this game. A stretch like this might strengthen New Mexico for later in the season.
As for UNLV, this is a great victory to lead them into their big match-up with SDSU on January 17th.
UNM will regroup for its game against Colorado State on January 14th.