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Weir wants more shooting from star shooter

February 20, 2019

Don’t dribble. Just shoot.

That’s the message Paul Weir has for sophomore shooting guard Vance Jackson, a rising star in the University of New Mexico men’s basketball program. Jackson had just dropped a career-high 30 points in a loss last weekend to Fresno State, scoring 20 in the first half and doing much of his work on improvised shots that stemmed from his creative ability in playmaking situations.

That’s all well and good, Weir said, except what he wants is less dribble penetration and more shooting.

“Vance, when the ball hits the floor too many times the shot percentages start to go down,” Weir said. “I thought he was much more efficient with himself offensively [Saturday], got to the free throw line a bunch, made some shots. He’s a great player. He’s just a sophomore.”

A 6-foot-9 transfer from UConn who sat out all of last season as a redshirt, Jackson is one of the more celebrated Lobo recruits in a while. He was billed as part of the much anticipated one-two punch that included Ohio State transfer JaQuan Lyle coming into the season.

The pair was supposed to be the backbone of a program on a steep climb back to the days of former coach Steve Alford’s heyday. Then Lyle went down with a torn Achilles tendon just before the opener, costing him the entire season and leaving UNM without the dominant veteran point guard it sorely needed.

Initially, it didn’t seem matter much. Jackson had a double-double in his first game in The Pit, then had 27 points in a loss at home to New Mexico State just before Thanksgiving. His future looked bright and his potential was hailed as professional-ready.

Then came rough shooting nights like 3-for-10, 4-for-16 and 3-for-9, each in losses that left the Lobos reeling and fans wondering what went wrong.

Weir said every Lobo fan wants Jackson to become like Nevada’s dynamic duo of Jordan Caroline and Caleb Martin, or Fresno State Braxton Huggins. All three are fifth-year seniors.

“He’s just a sophomore,” Weir said. “These games are there. It’s in him, he’s talented but to do it every night it just takes experience and he’s gaining that right now.”

Jackson broke out the sports interview handbook of clichés when addressing his play. He used terms like “letting the game come to myself,” “my teammates, they’re just looking for me,” and “just playing hard.”

“Most of the shots I take feel good,” he said.

While he heeds Weir’s advice about cutting down on his dribble penetration, the fact remains that Jackson is one of the better ball handlers on the team. He frequently brings it upcourt after made baskets and usually sets up any play with him on the wing or at the top of the key.

A 3-point shooter by trade, he does possess the size and quickness to drive into the lane and absorb contact, opening the door for trips to the free throw line. He does, however, have a tendency to dribble too long and take up too much time trying to decide what to do when defenses focus on face guarding 3-point marksman Anthony Mathis.

“I’ve just got to read it,” Jackson said. “It’s either me attacking or I shoot the 3, or look for the dump-ins to CB [Carlton Bragg] or Wop [Corey Manigault].”

Through 25 games Jackson is second on the team in scoring (12.8), rebounding (7.0) and 3-pointers made (45), and he leads the team in assists (2.4) and free throws made (69) and attempted (107).

It all demonstrates a steady evolution that makes Jackson the central figure in the team’s hopes of a turnaround next season. Until then, it’s all about doing the little things – like dribbling less and shooting more.

NOTES

Fewer 3s please: Weir admitted that the Lobos tend to get itchy trigger fingers when it comes to bombing away from 3-point territory.

“We just have to still find just a smooth offensively where it’s inside and out,” he said.

The Lobos rank 53rd in the country in 3-point attempts, taking 26.9 per game. The average 9.5 made 3s per game, ranking 35th.

Happy reunion: Weir and Fresno State’s Huggins had an interesting moment in the Pit’s midramp area after Saturday’s game. Weir was just leaving his postgame press conference while Huggins was lingering outside the Bulldogs’ locker room.

Huggins had just erupted for 19 points — all in the second half — to lead his team to a come from behind win over the Lobos. He was then named the Mountain West player of the week on Monday morning as he’s averaged more than 25 points in the last five games.

A fifth-year senior, he is finishing out his college career in Fresno but he began it at New Mexico State when he and Weir were part of an Aggies program that was (and still is) one of the top mid-major programs west of the Mississippi. When Weir got the job at UNM two years ago, Huggins announced he was transferring. He sat out as a redshirt last season and has flourished this year with the Bulldogs.

Weir walked straight over to him after they made eye contact. They exchanged a brief hug and a few words, then parted ways with Huggins giving his former coach a friendly wave as he headed down the Pit ramp to do a radio interview.

Baseball: Los Alamos grad Connor Mang doubled and had two hits but it wasn’t enough for the UNM baseball team to upset No. 7 Oregon State in Monday afternoon’s final round of the Surprise Classic in Surprise, Ariz. The Lobos (2-2) managed just five hits in a 5-0 loss to the defending national champion Beavers (4-0).

UNM split its four games in the tournament, beating Minnesota and Gonzaga while losing both games to Oregon State.

Starting pitcher Drew Gillespie (0-1) gave up six hits and two earned runs in five innings on the mound while three relievers combined to work three innings and give up two runs, both earned.