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November 17, 2010

Young Lobos hit the road

It was a wise sage who once made the observation that the only good thing about a freshman athlete is that he or she would grow up someday to be a junior or senior.

The UNM men's basketball team has a lot of promising talent this season. It's got good quickness, great depth and good size, even without 6-foot-9 Drew Gordon, and with Steve Alford, the Lobos are probably the best coached team in the Mountain West Conference.

Experience is a different matter. In Tuesday's 76-62 win over Arizona State, two-thirds of UNM's points were scored by freshmen and sophomores. That's impressive. It's also at home.

Here's a prediction: The Lobos will have two stupid losses this season. By stupid, that doesn't mean losses to good teams like San Diego State, BYU, UNLV, Texas Tech or even Cal or New Mexico State. No, a bad loss is to a team like Longwood or Colorado State or Wyoming or Air Force. It could even be a loss to TCU or Colorado.

Young teams have bad games. Coaching, effort and pure talent can't overcome that. They make mistakes at crucial times or miss free throws that decide the outcome. They shoot when they should pass or pass when they should shoot. It's part of the learning process. It's natural. It happens.

It probably won't happen in the Pit, though it could. The crowd really helps a young team. They feel unbeatable when 15,000 people are cheering them on. They have a sometimes unrealistic confidence that lifts them.

The road is a different matter, even in the buildings that are half empty. There was one Lobo team that beat No. 1 Arizona one Saturday and No. 5 Wyoming the next Saturday. And then UNM went on the road and lost at Hawaii and San Diego State because it was unbeatable at home and didn't have a clue on the road.

This team is better coached. But it is a team that has to find that go-to guy. Last year, it wasn't Darington Hobson, though his numbers were the best on the team. These young kids can replace his numbers. Roman Martinez is the man the Lobos have to replace.

Martinez had a natural knack for being in the right place when the Lobos needed a play. He hit the crucial 3-point shot, grabbed the crucial rebound and made the badly needed defensive play. He's gone, and none of the youngsters have stepped into that role. It is an absolute rarity for a freshman to do that.

This is a good team that should be a very good team by the end of the season, especially when Gordon is activated. He's the real deal.

The Lobos are going to win a lot of games this season. They are going to be fun to watch. Fans are going to watch these kids grow into men. It might be painful at times, but it will be fun.


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