Sick's Pack: Top Lobo basketball villains (Mountain West edition)

Jan. 5—You can't have inspiring heroes without a few top-notch villains.

It's a formula that works well in movies and perhaps even better in sports. Fans love nothing better than giving perceived bad guys a good tongue lashing during a home game, then sending them packing after a loss.

Unfortunately, most sports villains earn their stripes by inflicting pain and heartache on the hometown faithful.

So, with the University of New Mexico men's and women's basketball teams hosting Mountain West home openers Saturday, the time seems right to point out a few of the folks Lobo fans love to hate. This edition of Sick's Pack will be devoted to black hats and MWC wanted posters.

First, a few qualifiers:

With only six spots to split between men's and women's hoops, we'll limit this list to Mountain West villains. Much as I'd enjoy trotting out the likes of beloved former coaches such as New Mexico State's Neil McCarthy and Arizona's Lute Olson (may they rest in peace) or pre-MWC Pit favorites such as BYU's Danny Ainge, Lobo bad guys of the old west get a pass this time around.

Next, having conferred with my college hoops-happy colleague Geoff Grammer, it's been decided that Lobo-hating referees will not make the list. There are simply too many of them. Besides, most UNM fans don't really discriminate between game officials, booing them all with equal abandon.

I should also point out that this list of villains is not comprised of actual lawbreakers. Those I've met/interviewed actually seemed like pretty nice folks. They are instead painfully good players and coaches guilty of inflicting undue suffering on UNM basketball fans.

With that, let's pop open another Sick's Pack.

Top Lobo basketball villains (women):

No. 3 — Katie Powell, UNLV (2015-19): A 6-foot-4 post whose hair colors varied from blonde to purple to silver, Powell gave the Lobos fits with her inside-outside game and, um, confident demeanor. She also riled up Pit fans and referees on a regular basis. During a 2018 game she loudly implored a referee to "call the ****ing foul," after having her shot blocked. Somehow neither a personal nor a technical were called.

No. 2 — Haley & Hannah Cavinder, Fresno State (2019-22): The much-celebrated Cavinder twins became poster girls for social media engagement, lucrative NIL deals and helping to launch a swimwear company. They also transferred to Miami, retired after a season and Haley has since planned an un-retirement next season at TCU. But while playing for Fresno State, the twins often torched MWC foes including UNM. Lobo fans enjoyed needling them with chants of "Tik Tok, Tik Tok," when either sister shot free throws.

No. 1 — Morgan Warburton, Utah (2005-09): Warburton earned MWC Player of the Year honors in part because of her uncanny ability to plant daggers into the hearts of UNM fans. A true Lobo killer, she beat them with a late 3 in 2018, scored 21 against them in a 57-54 victory in 2019 and agonizingly hit a buzzer-beating runner in a 56-55 MWC tournament semifinal later that season.

Top Lobo basketball villains (men):

No. 3 — Jordan Caroline, Nevada (2016-19): UNM fans may never be able to block out memories of Caroline's 45-point effort at the Pit in 2017. ESPN spent days replaying his game-winning 3-pointer in the Wolf Pack's stunning 105-104 overtime win. Yes, the Lobos squandered a 25-point lead as Caroline and his teammates rained in a storm of late 3s. But the 6-7 Caroline also had 20- and 21-point games against UNM and was almost as popular with Pit fans as then-Nevada coach Eric Musselman.

No. 2 — Jimmer Fredette, BYU (2007-11): Yes, this guy torched pretty much everyone on his way to earning MWC Player of the Year and first-team All-America honors as a senior. But his picture has a special place on Lobo fans' dartboards because of March 11, 2011. Fredette set a slew of still-standing MWC tournament records by scoring 52 points against the Lobos in an 87-76 semifinal victory. UNM had beaten the Cougars twice previously that season.

No. 1 — Steve Alford & Craig Neal, Nevada (2019-present): Modern day versions of outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for Lobo fans, who once cheered this duo but no longer. Alford bolted for UCLA after a successful run as UNM's coach from 2007-13, departing days after agreeing to a contract extension. Neal took over when Alford left but his win totals steadily decreased from 2013-17. Lobo fans might have gotten over Alford's hasty departure (or maybe not) had he not signed on to coach an MWC rival and hired Neal as an assistant. At Nevada, Alford and Neal have bedeviled UNM, including a double-OT finish and a 77-76 buzzer-beating win last season. I suppose there could be a few random boos when the Wolf Pack visits the Pit on Jan. 28.

Honorable mention: UNLV's Desi Rae Young (who shoved UNM's LaTascya Duff to spark controversial game-changing double technicals in 2022) visits the Pit on Feb. 3. Boise State coach Leon Rice, who ranted about UNM's baseball team after a close loss in the Pit last season, returns on Jan. 31.