Lobos must toughen up mentally for rivalry with Aggies

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  • Jamal Mashburn
    Jamal Mashburn
    American basketball player

Nov. 29—Progress isn't always a straight line.

For the UNM Lobos, any upward trajectory they were making early in the season certainly veered off course with a pair of losses in Las Vegas, Nevada, this past week — one a mostly competitive game against a very talented defensive team in UAB and the other a surprisingly offensive no-show against a Towson team the Lobos clearly weren't prepared to play on Friday.

More troubling than the results in a season that is a rather large rebuilding project, has been the inability of several Lobo players to show they can handle in-game adversity when things aren't going their way.

The team is exciting when things are rolling, but a bad play far too often has turned into a bad series of plays. And that's something the friendly crowd in Las Cruces will gladly play a part in trying to make happen again on Tuesday night as the Lobos (4-3) ride their current two-game losing streak into the renewal of the Rio Grande Rivalry that had to take 2020 off due to state health restrictions.

"The bottom line is it's a collective will of our team," Lobos first-year coach Richard Pitino said. "We're not there yet. And we're going on the road — rivalry game. You have to be able to guard. You have to be able to move past anything that goes wrong. We're not there yet."

Sophomore guard Jamal Mashburn, Jr., who had family sitting on the baseline of both ends of the court at the Orleans Arena this past week watching him go off on back-to-back nights for career-high 26 point games, said none of his stats matter if he and his teammates can't figure out together how to get more mentally strong.

"With any game, there's going to be officiating and there's going to be some calls that you're not going to want or some calls you're gonna be unhappy about," Mashburn said. "For us, we got to do a better job of pushing forward and just moving along. ...

"We just have to go out there and continue to play and to have a positive attitude toward everything."

SELECT COMPANY: Mashburn's back-to-back 26-point games at the Las Vegas Invitational — Thursday vs. UAB and Friday vs. Towson — put him in some pretty rare company over the past decade or so.

According to Sports-Reference.com, since the start of the 2010-11 season, there have been 55 times a Lobo player scored 26 or more points in a game.

Just four of them did so in back-to-back games, one of them twice:

Mashburn last week (both neutral court games vs. UAB and Towson);

Tim Williams on Jan. 4, 2017 (26 vs. Nevada in the Pit) and Jan. 7, 2017 (30 at Utah State);

Elijah Brown on Feb. 17, 2016 (26 vs. Boise State in the Pit) and Feb. 20, 2016 (32 at Air Force);

Brown on Jan. 30, 2016 (30 at Boise State) and Feb. 2, 2016 (26 vs. UNLV in the Pit);

Dairese Gary on Feb. 23, 2011 (26 vs. UNLV in the Pit) and Feb. 26, 2011 (32 at TCU).

Mashburn said there was little joy to take from the statlines.

"I just care about the win, so obviously I've got to do more and we gotta get better in a lot of areas as a team," Mashburn Jr. said. "... They just out-toughed us. They out-toughed and out-physicalled us."

Pitino's reaction to the game of the sophomore who followed him as a transfer from Minnesota this past offseason to UNM:

"Offensively, it was terrific — was very dynamic. We need to, collectively, have his mindset on a daily basis that it's time to get better every single day. He does that. And I think that's why he's confident. That's why he's in attack mode all the time. So he was great."

HALF THE STORY: How bad was the Lobos' overall offense in that Towson game on Friday?

In seven games, and 14 halves of basketball this season, UNM has only shot under 40% from the field three times in a half, and two of them came in the same game:

30.0% — 2nd half vs. Towson on Friday;

34.4% — 1st half vs. Towson on Friday;

38.2% — 1st half vs. Grambling State on Nov. 15.

TUESDAY: New Mexico at New Mexico State, 7 p.m., Pan Am Center, 770 AM/96.3 FM, stream ESPN+

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