Albuquerque Journal

Lobo men must face yet another big problem

7-footer Robinson leads FSU vs. UNM

- BY GEOFF GRAMMER

The next big problem for the New Mexico Lobos, not that they haven’t felt as though they’ve had enough already, comes in the form of Orlando Robinson.

The Fresno State sophomore is averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. And as shown previously, the mere presence sometimes of an imposing big man in the other uniform can alter the Lobos’ mindsets.

Past games — namely the pair of Utah State blowout losses in Lubbock, Texas, where Neemias Queta single-handedly dominated UNM far beyond what his stat line would even show, and in letting center Cheikh Mbacke Diong get loose in a Jan. 16 loss at UNLV — the Lobos have proven sometimes incapable of knowing how to handle opposing bigs.

As the Lobos (5-9, 1-9 Mountain West) take on Fresno State (5-6, 3-6) in the Save Mart Center on Thursday night, Robinson, the 7-foot, 235-pounder from Las Vegas, Nev., is concern No. 1.

Queta made the Lobos gun shy around the rim: UNM shot just 32.0% on 2-point shots over two games due to his shot blocking presence, and the national average on 2-point shots is 49.8%. Robinson challenges the stilldevel­oping defensive capabiliti­es of UNM’s big men like Valdir Manuel and Bayron Matos.

“I think what makes him even different … Queta is obviously special, so I don’t want to take away from him, but Robinson is just so gifted offensivel­y,” Weir said. “He’s got some very, just unteachabl­e qualities. His coordinati­on for a kid his size. His feet, his hands — you don’t get that package a lot. Usually you’re going to give something up. … (Robinson) is a very special kind of physical specimen.”

But the Lobos’ size overall — with Matos and Manuel but also the help in the front court provided by Rod Brown and at times Emmanuel Kuac — is on Fresno State’s radar, too. The Lobos’ offensive rebounding ability — 31.8%, good for 78th best in Division I — is something the Bulldogs will focus on.

The Lobos “try to disrupt you defensivel­y,” Fresno State head

coach Justin Hutson said. “The point guards are starting to play better. They’re definitely big inside they have a nice returning player in (Makuach Maluach) that can really score it. So we’ll be ready to go.”

As for those Lobo point guards, 6-6 junior Saquan Singleton has started the past three games and his assist-toturnover ratio has been great (3.65-to-1). Though not an outside threat at all (he’s attempted just four 3-pointers without a make), Weir plans to keep going with him as the primary point guard for now.

“I think Saquan’s probably given us the best overall minutes that we’ve had,” Weir said. “And it’s a very small sample size, but I want to continue to give him that opportunit­y.”

ASSISTS: Saturday’s San Jose State loss is full of head scratchers. Among them: the

Lobos assisted on 26 of 31 field goals — an absurdly high assist rate for a team that lost to one of the country’s worst statistica­l defensive teams.

Not only did Singleton (11) and Maluach (6) post career high assist figures, the team’s total of 26 is tied for the fifth highest number for Lobo basketball in the past decade — third highest in a Division I game.

UNM did have 40 assists in Paul Weir’s debut on Nov. 11, 2017, against NAIA Northern New Mexico, and the top assists game against a Division I opponent was 29 in an 89-88 loss to Air Force on March 9, 2013, when a Lobos team ranked No. 12 lost Steve Alford’s final regular-season Mountain West game as UNM’s coach.

Those Lobos went on the next week to win the MWC tournament and earn a three seed in the NCAA Tourney, where they would lose to No. 14 Harvard.

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