NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It’s back on after a year off. On Tuesday night, the UNM Lobos and New Mexico State Aggies will renew their men’s basketball rivalry in Las Cruces. COVID-19 put the pair of yearly games on ice last season. It was the first pause in the series since the 1945-46 season.
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“It’s unique that we play twice,” said Lobos Head Coach Richard Pitino. “I’ve never seen that in one year. So, that makes it even more interesting.” He has seen plenty of big rivalry games, having coached in the Big Ten but it’s a different story for Pitino’s young Lobo squad full of transfer players.
“It’s amazing how many guys in our locker room has not played true road games, in front of fans, if you think about it,” said Pitino. “Jamal Mashburn never played on the road in front of fans besides Colorado. Gethro has never played on the road in front of fans. We just got a lot of inexperienced guys. We just got to be physically ready to compete.”
Pitino does not believe his team was physically ready to compete at the Las Vegas Invitational last week. The Lobos lost a pair of games but appear to have had some growth with the setbacks.
“We took away from those two games in Vegas that we have to improve our rebounding, our toughness, mainly just mentally and physically, just hitting bodies, not really worried about the rebound, just hitting the body first and just taking care of that first,” said Lobos guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. “We just got better at that. So, these couple of days of practice have been really good for us and we’re just excited to go get this win.”
It will be the first time playing in the series for a lot of players on the floor Tuesday. “I mean I think this is a good test for us,” said Mashburn. “It’s a good chance for us to bounce back after those two games in Vegas. We know it’s going to be a tough environment but they got to come right back and play us again too. This is a tough environment as well. They are going to get our best fight.”
The 4-3 Lobos and 5-1 Aggies game in Las Cruces on Tuesday starts at 7 p.m. The two teams will play the second game of the series in Albuquerque on Dec. 6.