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UNLV, New Mexico experiencing growing pains this year

The basketball programs at UNLV and New Mexico have grown very accustomed to one another over the years.

In fact, the teams have played 24 times since the start of the 2007-08 season, with the Lobos owning 14 victories in those meetings.

Still, some introductions may be required when the teams square off at Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday night.

Only six of the 20 players who competed in the last meeting between the schools in February 2014 are expected to play in the game tonight.

All of that roster turnover has led to some growing pains for two of the premiere programs in the Mountain West.

UNLV fans are very aware of the Rebels’ struggles.

It hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park for New Mexico coach Craig Neal in his second year at the helm of the program, either.

Neal was an assistant to Steve Alford, but the transition hasn’t been seamless.

The Lobos are 12-6 overall and 4-2 in league play, but the losses include a game at Grand Canyon and home defeats against Boise State and Southern Cal.

Even in the wins, it has been apparent that something is not right with the Lobos.

New Mexico has at least looked strong on the defensive end of the floor. New Mexico is one of just two teams in the country that has yet to give up 70 points in a game this season.

The Lobos give up just 58.3 points per game and out-rebound opponents by 4.0 boards per contest. Much like UNLV’s previous opponent San Diego State, New Mexico can make each possession a struggle.

Neal’s team needs to play that way largely because of the offensive issues.

The coach’s son, Cullen Neal, went down early in the season as the team’s leading scorer.

Senior Deshawn Delaney has tried to pick up the slack, averaging 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. His classmate, Hugh Greenwood, is the only other player scoring in double-figures.

He’s scoring just shy of 11 points per game while posting nearly five rebounds and four assists.

No other starter averages more than seven points per game, but the Lobos do get solid contributions from their reserves.

Jordan Goodman leads a group of six regular contributors off the bench.

New Mexico’s bench has outscored opposing benches in all six of UNM’s conference games and the Lobos have doubled their bench scoring edge 150 points to 75 points in those six games, an average advantage of 12.5 points per game.

The Lobos should continue that trend on Wednesday. UNLV’s bench has provided little this season and is coming off zero points in a loss at San Diego State.

The Rebels reserves are further weakened by the insertion of Patrick McCaw, the leading scorer off the bench, into the starting lineup.

One other area where UNLV could be in trouble is behind the arc. New Mexico is allowing opponents to shoot just 28.5 percent from 3-point range, the best mark in the program’s history.

 

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