Saturday, December 14, 2013

UNM wary of bounce-back game from KU

New Mexico coach Craig Neal, right, talks with Kendall Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Albuquerque, NM.

New Mexico coach Craig Neal, right, talks with Kendall Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Albuquerque, NM.


— It should be interesting to see how perennial basketball powerhouse Kansas University reacts tonight as it tries to shake a slump that has accounted for three losses in four games.

“You will see (one of) two game plans,” first-year New Mexico coach Craig “Noodles” Neal said of the Jayhawks, who take a 6-3 record into today’s contest against his 7-1 Lobos, set for a 6 p.m. tipoff in Sprint Center.

“You will see a team that will be really, really solid and get back to trying to be cohesive, or find a team really, really (ticked) off and they will come out and try to knock us out in the first round. We’ve got to be ready for both and be ready to withstand that. I mean, you are playing in a venue of 19,000 people, and it’s 30 miles from (KU’s) campus,” Neal added. “It will be like a road game for us.”

KU, which hasn’t had a home game since Nov. 22, will be in its home-away-from-home, Sprint Center, where the Jayhawks are 22-4 all-time.

The opponent, UNM, has beaten Alabama A&M;, Charleston Southern, UAB, Davidson, San Diego, New Mexico State and Cincinnati and lost to UMass.

The Lobos, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years under former coach Steve Alford, enter unranked, while the Jayhawks are No. 13 nationally.

“I think they are a team that hasn’t hit their stride,” said Neal, 49, who played basketball at Georgia Tech, and in the NBA, USBL, CBA and WBL, and has coached in both college and the NBA.

“They are trying to find a glue or chemistry, and it’s not easy. My biggest concern is I know coach (Bill) Self really well. He is one of the top coaches in the country. My biggest concern is he’ll have ’em ready.”

Neal’s squad, which has explosive scorers in 6-9 senior forward Cameron Bairstow (19.8 ppg), 6-4 senior guard Kendall Williams (19.1 ppg) and 7-0 junior center Alex Kirk (18.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg), figures to test KU with a zone defense (2-3) as well as man-to-man. The Jayhawks have struggled against zones lately.

“I’m not going to pull a 1-3-1 zone, like Florida, did out of my hat,” Neal said of the defense the Gators used in Tuesday’s 67-61 win over KU in Gainesville, Fla. “We’re going to play Lobo basketball, the way we play. Hopefully we go in and guard them and don’t have to play a lot of zone, but I’m sure we’ll change some things up on them.”

Self has great respect for the Mountain West Conference school.

“New Mexico ... you can make a case they may be as good as anybody we’ve played,” Self said. “We are not going to play another team where three guys average 19 a game. They’ve got a 7-footer. They’ve got a 6-9 guy who may be as good a player as we’ll go against. He made the Australian national team,” Self said of Bairstow.

Self hopes the Jayhawks have a strong effort against a talented team.

“We’re not playing well, obviously. We’re a lot better than what we’re playing,” Self said. “We’ve got to get a little confidence back and get back into attacking.”

Naadir to start: Self told the Journal-World that junior point guard Naadir Tharpe would return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench the past two games. Freshman Frank Mason will return to his role as a key reserve. Other starters will be sophomore Perry Ellis, plus freshmen Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

Self said “a lot of things” when asked what he was looking for in his point guard.

“Making sure we get a shot every possession would be a nice start. Being able to get guys easy baskets,” Self said. “I would hope in my thinking a point guard would be the extension of the coaching staff or the head coach, no matter what happens. If it breaks down, you still run stuff and execute stuff because they are telling everybody what to do. We’re not quite there yet.

“Frank is trying his butt off. He’s just young and never played point before, so it’s all new to him. We don’t have that extension of the staff yet on the court.”

Self said Thursday that Tharpe was the strongest candidate to emerge as a team leader.

“For us to have a really good year this year, Naadir has to step up. There’s no other way around it. I believe he will. He’s in a little bit of a funk right right now, but he’s gonna get out of it,” Self said.

Merv mum: The Journal-World issued a request to interview New Mexico sophomore Merv Lindsay this past week through New Mexico’s communications office. The request was denied.

Lindsay, a 6-7 wing from Moreno Valley, Calif., has played 16 minutes total in four of New Mexico’s eight games. He has made his one shot attempt on the season. He’s 0-for-2 from the line with two rebounds.

“He’s a great guy. He was a great teammate,” Self said of Lindsay, who played at KU in 2011-12, then transferred after the season.


Tony Bandle 6 years, 1 month ago


1] Funny how there seems to be an impression that the Sprint Center is a KU-cursed venue....22-4 seems to indicate the opposite.

2] Merv, welcome back...hope things work out for you.

3] I think there's a good chance for a decent KU bounce back tonight. Why? There's only one wolf allowed in KC and that's the Chiefs Wolfie!!

4] Didn't take long for Jo Jo to become part of the starting line up, did it???

5] Hint to Greene some more...he may be the "energy guy " we are looking for.

6] One good thing about the weather, Wiggins being Canadien, probably will be the only OAD at Kansas that will embrace the winters!! :)

7] Final Score KU 77 - NM 68.

Jack Wilson 6 years, 1 month ago

Oak -- emphasis on your 5th point. Not only energy, but Greene seems to have some fire in the belly. Much needed with the passive personalities Self has mentioned. I think that the most important thing Self can do right now is play Brannen Greene 12-15 minutes per game. Hopefully Tuesday was an indication that the "choice" on the 5th perimeter guy has been made, as Self said he would do. Keep Greene in the flow, show confidence in him, let him play through a mistake or two. Let him get the confidence to gun some threes. They may not all go in early, but we're playing for March, right?

John Fitzgerald 6 years, 1 month ago

I agree with the Greene point. He does have some fire inside him and he can put up points quickly. We need his personality if we want to fire these guys up. Right now Mason is the only one I've been impressed with and he doesn't talk enough on the court to get everyone else pumped up. I'm positive we can turn this thing around tho! RCJh!

Don Johnson 6 years, 1 month ago

We will get to see if the players only meeting changed anything.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 1 month ago

22-4? Have we really played that many games in the Sprint Center so far?

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 1 month ago

5 Big 12 tournaments, 2 CBE tournaments, along with the annual regular season game there.

Jeff Schartz 6 years, 1 month ago

We have played several solo games, and a couple of big twelve tourneys, at least.

Kent Richardson 6 years, 1 month ago

This has got to be Self's toughest coaching challenge yet. So many frosh with JoJo extremely inexperienced. Now that other coaches have figured us as zoned out they have taken away Perry and our inside because they can safely pack it in. I keep hearing you need to find the gaps in a zones and attack there. This is where Perry would be effective. I'm not even sure we can get open threes consistently with what someone called our perimeter rainbow passes (ha). Is it really as simple as hitting threes and rebounding. It seemed so during the second half at gatorland. I think a couple of dominant runs where we are hitting on all cylinders would loosen our team up.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 1 month ago

Definitely agree. Breaking a zone isn't done only by making 3's. Perry has got to be part of the answer by hitting the creases then decisively make the next pass to the cutter or take the shot. Pass it in, pass it out doesn't do much.

We also need a lot more rebounding out of him, especially against a zone where there isn't a man assigned to box him out.

The perimeter passing also needs skip passes. Passing to your neighbor means you have to pass it over the defender (rainbow), and also lets the D recover much more quickly.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 1 month ago

4] Accelerated by the highest fouls per minute in basketball. Started noticing lately that a large # of Black's fouls are arm bar fouls. Allowed in years past , but no more. I guess old habits are hard to break, but he seems like a smart enough player that he should be able to learn to adapt.

That being said, I don't think many people expected to see the shot development out of Jo, and seems to be learning the Withey-defender role fairly effectively as well. Now, if we can just keep him on the court as well, tho Jamarii's continued development is a positive.

Rodney Crain 6 years, 1 month ago

Hoping to see a more consistent rebounding effort from our team.

Will be very interesting in how well we play the second 10 minutes of the first half of the game. This appears to be where we tend to lose focus and the ability to execute, as other teams ramp up in game adjustments against us.

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