WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Geoff Grammer, who covers New Mexico men’s basketball for the Albuquerque Journal.
Eighth seed Wyoming (19-12) plays No. 15 New Mexico (26-5) at 7:30 tonight in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Question: Is New Mexico stinging a little bit after losing 89-88 at Air Force to end the regular season, even though it didn’t affect their place in the conference and didn’t drop it much in the polls?
Answer: Not really. It got some good out of the Air Force game in that the Lobos, whose main weakness is their shooting, shot the ball better than they have all season with 15 3-pointers in the loss. They are confident their defense will return to its old form this week while optimistic the hot shooting stroke they found Saturday, albeit in a loss, will carry over throughout their March run.
Q: How much should New Mexico be concerned that Wyoming was able to control the tempo in the Lobos’ 53-42 win at the Pit on Feb. 2?
A: I think that’s the main concern the Lobos should have with the Cowboys. For about 30 minutes a game, UNM tends to allow its opponent to do their thing, dictate tempo and generally play comfortably. In the final 10 minutes of games, the Lobos have been very successful in changing the game to their favor, but that’s not necessarily something they want to keep pushing their luck with in one-and-done tournament scenarios. It hasn’t burnt them much yet, as evident by their winning the regular season title by two full games, but UNM doesn’t want to keep letting teams hang around late in games.
Q: Is Wyoming more of a threat to upset New Mexico with, what appears to be, a more healthier squad, and in particular forwards Leonard Washington and Larry Nance Jr.?
A: I’d say its chances are much improved over just 12 days ago when the Cowboys played in Albuquerque, but the Lobos are also confident in what they’ve been able to do in the post against Wyoming. In Laramie, with both Washington and Nance at full strength if I remember correctly, the Lobos had a fairly dominant performance in the post. UNM will go to Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow early and often and I’m not sure they health of Washington and Nance would change their approach there.
Q: What is the biggest key for the Lobos and Cowboys to play well?
A: UNM likes to run its offense inside out through center Alex Kirk. If Kirk stays out of foul trouble, I think he’s the key in games like this, even if the final stat sheet won’t necessarily show him as having a dominating game. Kirk playing quality minutes gets UNM going and opens up things more than I think most people realize. For Wyoming, more of the same. It has done well against UNM in dictating tempo and slowing things down. If it does that, and keeps the Lobos from getting any sort of rhythm on offense, it has got a shot at another ugly, low-scoring game, which I think (Wyoming coach) Larry Shyatt would be more than happy with.
Q: Can the Cowboys pull off the upset, or do the Lobos get it done tonight?
A: I think the Lobos get it done. They’re a complete team in that they have both guards and post players that can play above average on both ends and can go a few players deep on the bench where I’m not sure Wyoming can. On short rest, I’m not confident a team like Wyoming with so little depth can recover. That said, its tempo is conducive to having a short bench. Wyoming had a shot down the stretch of both losses at UNM so to predict otherwise in the quarterfinals would be silly. Wyoming has got a shot, just not a great one.