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Dent laughs at nicknames, but gets serious when talking Air Force: Lobos have no plans on overlooking Falcons like last year

Feb. 23—It was one of those nights — one of those plays — that calls for turning off the social media notifications on your phone.

In a good way, of course.

Flashing a big smile, University of New Mexico sophomore point guard Donovan Dent chuckled on Friday when asked how busy his phone has been the past few days since Wednesday's coast-to-coast game-winning layup through the defense of No. 22 Colorado State.

"It's been crazy. (Social) media has been going insane since the layup — a lot of funny nicknames, a lot of crazy stuff. It's been fun."

A couple nicknames that Dent said made him laugh were "The Dentinator" and "Downhill Deluxe." When told one reader of the Journal suggested in an email to start using the headline "You've been Dented!" after any future such game-winners (Wednesday was Dent's third of the season, after all), the Lobo guard said that was clever and laughed again.

But he also made clear, the joking on Friday wasn't how he had spent much of the past couple days.

While he and his Lobos (21-6, 9-5 Mountain West and still in play for a conference title) would appear to have an opportunity for bit of a breather on the schedule when they host last place Air Force (8-17, 1-12 MW) in a Saturday afternoon game in the Pit, Dent said there is little chance of overlooking the Falcons.

"I mean, we look back at last year — we let two of these slip last year and those kind of cost us (a chance at the NCAA Tournament)," Dent said, referring to UNM losing a road game to a second-to-last place Air Force and then to last place Wyoming (in the Pit) in back-to-back February games.

"So, I think we're taking (Air Force) very serious because we don't want any more mistakes like last year," he said. "Coach P's been harping that."

Coach P, aka Richard Pitino, has said to media he hasn't had to do much harping on his players this year. Between the urgency of several players' college careers approaching their end and the fact his team has some lofty goals still in play, energy and effort in practices have not been an issue.

"We're fighting for a championship. We're fighting for conference seeding, a postseason. And we're home," Pitino said. "So, hopefully, the energy is great (Saturday) all around."

HURRY UP AND WAIT: UNM ranks sixth out of 362 Division I teams in tempo, per KenPom.com.

Air Force ranks 358th out of 362 in tempo.

To say the pace of play difference between the two teams is extreme would be an understatement.

"I want to play fast, but a lot of that has to do with getting a lot of steals and when we turn teams over," Pitino said on Wednesday night after the win over a Colorado State, a team very good at slowing opponents down.

"I'm not telling them to play with reckless abandon; just play the right way and take what the game gives you. When you get into conference, it normally slows down. You're normally going to have lower-possession games ... and that's fine, but good teams have to find ways to win a variety of ways."

NO EXCUSES: Dent sprained his ankle on the final play of the Feb. 13 win at Nevada.

While he hasn't missed a game with the injury, and late-game heroics at the rim against Colorado State notwithstanding, he's appeared to struggle more than normal with finishing at the rim in the past two games. He shot 3-of-10 on two-point shots in the loss at San Diego State last Friday and was 3-of-8 on two-point shots against CSU.

Friday, he said the ankle didn't affect either game.

"The ankle's 100%. The ankle's great," Dent said.

When the struggles at the rim were brought up in a follow-up question, Dent reiterated he was healthy.

"I think I just missed," Dent said. "San Diego State did a great job of walling me up at the basket. I normally make them, I just missed them that game."

It was even jokingly suggested he just had been given every opportunity to use the ankle as an excuse.

"I can't make one," Dent laughed.

SWEEP SEEKERS: A Lobos win on Saturday in the Pit would be a season sweep of Air Force, UNM's fourth sweep of the season (New Mexico State, Wyoming and Nevada being the others).

The Lobos have not had four sweeps in a season since 2017-18 when it had four.

In the sweeps, Game 2s haven't been anything like Game 1s.

As noted in UNM men's basketball sports information director Steve Kirkland's game notes, two of UNM's three sweeps have had the unusual distinction of featuring the Lobos winning by 30-plus points in the first victory and then squeaking one out by 1 point in the rematch (106-62 vs. NMSU then 73-72 at NMSU; and 89-55 vs. Nevada then 83-82 at Nevada).

The Wyoming sweep, however, featured Lobo wins of 17- and 19-point margins.