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January 28, 2011The rumbling in the distance is really a roar, the steady building of sound and momentum that is heading toward The Pit. Something wicked this way comes to hunt the limping Lobos.
BYU is approaching.
The No. 9 team in the country (almost certainly soon to be ranked higher) is coming off a 71-58 win over the fourth-ranked Aztecs of San Diego State on Wednesday.
The Cougars pounce on Bob King Court Saturday at 2 p.m. The Lobos (14-7) will certainly have their hands, hearts and minds full. UNM needs BYU (20-1) to have a big-game hangover, an adrenaline crash that sometimes comes after beating a top-5 team in a storm-the-court event.
The Lobos need to hope to be overlooked and dismissed because the Cougars are currently the best team in the Mountain West Conference and UNM has lost six of its last 10 games.
The Cougars have Jimmer Fredette, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound nightmare that Lobos fans would love to forget. Fredette scored 43 points almost casually against previously undefeated SDSU.
The two-guard has dropped in 40-plus points in the three of his last four games and his range starts when he enters the terminal at the Albuquerque International Sunport. Fredette fires freely, but it rarely appears that he is playing outside the constructs of the Cougars offense. He gives the impression that it's all part of the plan, which, of course, it is. When the double-teams and traps come his way, the ball generally finds an open player. It takes a complete team to average 84.5 points per game (sixth-best in the nation).
What are the Lobos going to counter with? They haven't been dominant defensively. They haven't played well against good teams. They have really only two players that have been consistent in MWC play - Dairese Gary and Drew Gordon. UNM, the youngest team in the league, needs others to join Gary and Gordon, those killer Gs. Shooting guard Phillip McDonald has been good in spots as have Kendall Williams and A.J. Hardeman. But the Lobos need more frequent contributions across the roster. Since the beginning of conference play, either Gary or Gordon has been the leading scorer three times.
They tied once for that distinction. Gordon has been the leading rebounder in every game. The duo needs help against a team that averages 40 rebounds a game and shoots 46 percent from the field. The Lobos are missing pieces, but opportunity is abundant for whomever decides to seize it.
The Lobos have stumbled into mediocrity this season. At 2-4 in the league they are taking the hard way into the conference tournament. BYU and SDSU are separating themselves at the top of the MWC.
UNLV, Colorado State and Utah are occupying the second tier. The rest are rapidly drifting away. UNM needs to fight the tide if it hopes to get back in the conference race.
Otherwise, this season will become just on the job training for next season.