Snell steps up to help UNM win

The name on the back is the same and the number on the uniform hasn't changed. But the guy playing basketball inside the No. 21 jersey for the New Mexico Lobos doesn't look like the same person who had been wearing it earlier in the season.
Everyone has long known that Tony Snell has tremendous potential for UNM. He can run, jump, shoot, handle the ball, play tenacious defense and almost glides to the basket when he drives for a layup. But Snell had not lived up his abilities. He seemed to be gliding through games instead of to the basket.
Since the Lobos have started their Mountain West Conference schedule, the real Snell has stepped up. He wasn't overwhelming with 13 points against UNLV in the league opener but he has picked up the pace with 16 against Fresno State, 22 against Boise State and had 21 against Colorado State.
Snell's performances are a big reason for New Mexico's 4-0 start in the MWC. He has become a real asset as the Lobos improved to 17-2 overall and earned a No. 15 ranking in this week's AP poll.
Snell leads UNM in being laid back, not showing emotions and willingness to pass when he probably should be shooting. You don't see him jumping around before a game. He's a different kind of person, one who would harm no one and could even be described as passive.
So why the big change?
``It's just me. I'm just playing the game,'' said Snell with his familiar broad smile and braided hair. ``I've learned that you are going to make mistakes. You have to just block it out.''
Snell doesn't look like the guy who took just four shots and scored five points in a loss at St. Louis. He had only six points with four shots against Idaho. And five times this season he has scored just seven points.
``Tony is playing very aggressively,'' UNM coach Steve Alford said. ``But the thing with Tony is his defense.''
Snell comes equipped with long arms on his 6-7 frame. The junior from Riverside, Calif., has outstanding quickness to go with his size. He has learned how to work through screens and picks and stay with his man, a talent he hasn't always had.
``My confidence is definitely growing,'' Snell admitted. ``I feel different. Now, I just relax and play the game.''
The Lobos play at San Diego State at 2 p.m. on Saturday in a big conference showdown. UNM has a two-game lead on everyone in the league. After SDSU, New Mexico makes the trek up to the frozen tundra that is Laramie, Wyo. to play the Cowboys.
``Every game is important because it is league play,'' Snell pointed out. ``Every team, we've got to give 100 percent. We can't break down.''
A Tony Snell who scores 20 points a game will be a big boost to keeping the Lobos atop the MWC standings.