Rather than head home after Wednesday’s loss at Colorado State, New Mexico flew to Las Vegas and practiced Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Lobos no doubt were in a hurry to put that 105-72 defeat behind them, and they have shown an extraordinary ability to bounce back. New Mexico won the succeeding game after each of its previous three losses, including answering a 25-point defeat to Auburn in November with a nine-point victory over Wisconsin the next day.
UNLV (10-9, 5-1 Mountain West) hopes to buck the trend of New Mexico (15-4, 4-2) in bounce-back games, and Saturday’s 3 p.m. meeting at the Thomas & Mack is important for both teams as they jockey for position in the conference standings.
New Mexico’s resiliency has been especially important in a season in which the Lobos have lost three starters — one was kicked off, another suspended and another injured — and costing their Lobos their two tallest players and their point guard.
“We don’t have a ton of depth,” New Mexico coach Paul Weir said. “We could’ve lost some guys in the middle that wouldn’t have affected us as much. So we’re working through it, and we’ll see where it goes.”
The Rebels know better than to take lightly a short-handed New Mexico team, and Kenpom gives UNLV just a 53-percent chance of winning even though they roll in having won six of seven games.
“We’ve had a couple guys out for us, and you can’t let that deter how you play,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “I know with their squad, they’re going to move on and try to play at the level they always play at, so we need to be focused and prepared.”
New Mexico has remained competitive despite experiencing plenty of turmoil:
— Forward Carlton Bragg Jr. was dismissed Sunday after an arrest earlier that morning for driving under the influence and marijuana possession. He had recently returned from a three-game suspension after being accused last summer of trying to force unwanted sex with a 20-year-old woman. Bragg was averaging 12.6 points and 10.3 rebounds.
— Point guard J.J. Caldwell was indefinitely suspended leading up to the Dec. 22 game against Houston Baptist after being accused of battery about a week earlier, though he was not charged. Caldwell, who averages 5.8 points and 5.7 assists, is suing the university.
— Wing Vance Jackson was sent back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, after injuring a knee at Colorado State. He averages 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.
“The MRI was very positive, so we feel good about him returning, but I don’t necessarily think it will be any time soon,” Weir said.
The injury to Jackson is just the latest challenge for the Lobos.
“It’s definitely a very unique situation,” said JaQuan Lyle, who leads New Mexico with 16.9 points per game. “We can prevail through this and keep fighting. It’s a chance for a lot of guys to step up and make big plays.”
■ Who: UNLV vs. New Mexico
■ When: 3 p.m. Saturday
■ Where: Thomas & Mack Center
■ TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
■ Line: UNLV -5; total 146
New Mexico (15-4, 4-2 MW)
Coach: Paul Weir (48-37, third season)
UNLV (10-9, 5-1 Mountain West)
Coach: T.J. Otzelberger (10-9, first season)