Sick's Pack: The six best Lobo hoops seasons, when both UNM men's and women's teams were elite

Feb. 2—It really doesn't happen very often.

The University of New Mexico's men's and women's basketball teams are giving die-hard fans a lot to cheer about this season. Both are contenders in their respective Mountain West races and both have grabbed a bit of national attention by knocking off nationally ranked foes.

For those who might have been hibernating in January, the Lobo men thumped then-No. 19 San Diego State (88-70) and then-No. 16 Utah State (99-86) on Jan 13 and 16, respectively.

A few days later on Jan. 20, UNM's women shocked pretty much everyone by knocking off then No. 25 UNLV on the Rebels' home floor. That result snapped UNLV's 29-game winning streak against MWC opponents, which dated back to 2021.

Woof, woof, woof, right?

The remarkable turn of events got me wondering about the last time UNM men's and women's teams both knocked off nationally ranked foes in the same week. Care to hazard a guess?

It's only happened twice previously in the 21st century.

January 2010:

UNM men toppled No. 12 BYU and Jimmer Fredette 76-72 at the Pit on Jan. 27. Three days later, the Lobo women upset No. 20 TCU 60-53, also at the Pit.

March 2003:

Coach Don Flanagan's New Mexico women edgedNo. 25 Utah 51-48 on March 6 — on their way to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. Five days earlier, coach Ritchie McKay's Lobo men had beaten 22nd-ranked Utah 76-69 at the Pit.

Part of what makes these dual upsets so rare is that UNM men's and women's teams have followed an odd pattern over the years. They're rarely good at the same time.

For example, when the UNM women knocked off Miami and Mississippi State in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, the Lobo men finished 10-18 (despite that win over Utah).

The reverse was true in 1992-93 and 1993-94, when Dave Bliss coached the New Mexico men's team to a pair of WAC championships. The Lobo women finished 5-22 and 2-26 in those seasons.

Fortunately, there have been exceptions and those will be the focus of this edition of Sick's Pack: The Top Six Seasons of UNM Men's and Women's Basketball.

As usual, judging is done by yours truly after consulting a few sage members of Lobo Nation. Bear in mind that some of those "back-in-my-day" UNM men's seasons won't qualify because Lobo women's hoops didn't become an official sport until 1974-75. The program also was dropped from 1987-91.

Differing opinions are welcome, perhaps likely, but there's no denying that these six Lobo hoops seasons went down smooth with fans. Let's crack open this Sick's Pack.

Top six seasons of UNM men's and women's basketball

No. 6 — 2023-24: This one could end up climbing the list or falling off completely, but respective coaches Richard Pitino and Mike Bradbury have the Lobo men and women in prime position at the Mountain West's halfway pole. Both teams are entertaining and have fans looking forward to the next six weeks.

No. 5 — 2008-09: This one ranks as a combined success as the men and women put together a 47-23 campaign and made NIT and WNIT runs. The UNM men's team rolled over Nebraska before dropping a 70-68 heartbreaker at Notre Dame. The Lobo women knocked off Southern, Nebraska and Oregon State before falling to Kansas in the quarterfinals with the last three games played in front of large crowds at Rio Rancho's Star Center.

No. 4 — 1995-96: Arguably the best season of Dave Bliss' UNM coaching tenure as the Lobos went 28-5 and captured a WAC tournament title behind Kenny Thomas, Clayton Shields and Charles "Spider" Smith. The Lobos avenged two losses to Utah by beating the Utes in the conference tourney and went on to defeat Kansas State in the NCAAs. The season ended with a 73-62 loss to Allen Iverson and heavily favored Georgetown in round two.

By comparison, the UNM women's season was mediocre at 14-15. But, it was the start of something. Flanagan's first Lobo team reached the WAC tourney final before falling to Colorado State.

No. 3 — 2007-08: Steve Alford was in his first season with the UNM men's team, J.R. Giddens was MWC Player of the Year and the Lobos headed to the conference tournament with a 24-7 record. The ending wasn't as grand as UNM suffered two-point losses to Utah and Cal in the MWC tourney and NIT, but excitement about the program was back.

On the women's side, Dionne Marsh, Brandi Kimble and Amy Beggin led the Lobos to a 25-11 record and captured the last of Flanagan's eight conference championships, topping BYU, Colorado State and San Diego State at the MWC tourney. UNM battled West Virginia in an NCAA first-rounder at the Pit, but Kimble's shot for the win rolled off the rim in a 61-60 nail-biter.

No. 2 — 1977-78: Yep, I was working for the Journal back then — throwing papers before school. Like pretty much everyone else in the state, I was fired up about coach Stormin' Norman Ellenberger's Lobo men, including the likes of Michael Cooper and Marvin Johnson. UNM scored 100 points or more 12 times, went 24-4 and topped No. 9 UNLV (think Jerry Tarkanian and Reggie Theus) 102-98 in one of the most entertaining games I've seen. The Lobos were ranked No. 5 nationally heading to the NCAAs. As for commenting on that 90-85 loss to Cal State Fullerton, sorry, it's still too soon.

The UNM women's program was still relatively new at the time but coach Kathy Marpe's team went 16-8 behind Jean Rostermundt, Taryn Bachis and rebound machine Carol Moreland.

No. 1 — 2004-05: This Lobo season was as rare a bird as the orange-bellied parrot (yeah, I looked that up) as the UNM men's and women's teams both won Mountain West titles.

The Lobo women, led by Marsh, Lindsey Arndt, Mandi Moore, Abbie Letz and Katie Montgomery, went 26-4 before falling to Purdue in their NCAA opener.

The men's team produced McKay's best UNM season behind future NBA star Danny Granger. The Lobos went 26-7, knocked off No. 15 Utah (Rick Majerus, Andrew Bogut) but couldn't find the range in an 55-47 NCAA opener against Villanova.

After review: Thanks to all who chimed in about the Sick's Pack on New Mexico coaching legends. I'm kicking myself for missing a few deserving honorable mentions and others I simply never met. Here are some that readers brought to my attention:

Henry Sanchez (Bernalillo, Robertson, New Mexico Highlands basketball); Pete Shock (Cliff basketball); Kevin Worth (Piedra Vista softball); Hugh Hackett (Highland, UNM track and field); Bill Gentry (Highland, Eldorado football); Gary Sanchez (Highland track/football).