By Dave Wagner
No matter what happens in New Mexico’s Christmas Eve appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon State, former Clovis High standout Hank Baskett has already had at least one personal highlight for the year — an appearance on ESPN’s “Top 10 Plays.”
His moment came in a game against Mountain West Conference rival Colorado State.
“You don’t get to play on ESPN much,” Baskett said. “I made a one-handed catch (against the Rams), and it was No. 7 for the day.”
Baskett will have a chance for more highlights when ESPN televises Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. (MST) contest against the Pac-10 Beavers in Las Vegas. The Lobos are in this game for the second year in a row after a span of 41 years with only one postseason appearance.
UNM (8-4, 5-2 MWC) finished second behind Utah in league play and has won seven of its last eight games.
Lobos offensive coordinator Dan Dodd said Baskett, a sophomore in football eligibility but a junior academically, has started to come into his own. Baskett is third on the team with 16 catches for 261 yards (16.3 average per catch) and two touchdowns.
“If you’d told me before the season he’d be as involved in our offense as he is, I’d have been surprised,” Dodd said. “Hank has made just unbelievable strides, and he has a chance to be a quality player over the next couple of years.”
Baskett’s been part of a six-man rotation for three receiver positions this year. The rotation will be five for the bowl game, Dodd said, because one of the receivers did not make the trip.
“I’ve started the last three games,” said Baskett, primarily a flanker. “It’s been going pretty good. I’ve just been trying to play my role. I know all of the wide-out positions, in case anyone goes down. I just do what I can when I get an opportunity.”
Dodd said he isn’t sure if Baskett will start against Oregon State (7-5, 4-4 Pac-10), but he knows he’ll play.
“Hank’s going to get substantial playing time in this bowl game,” Dodd said. “He’s made the really hard catches for us this year.”
The Lobos, beaten by UCLA in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, expect their work to be cut out this time as well.
“They’ve got a good team,” Baskett said of the Beavers. “They’ve got a couple of guys who are supposed to be first-round (NFL) picks. But we’re pretty closely matched, and we’ve just got to come up here and play like we know we can.”
Dodd said OSU’s defense will provide a stiff test.
“They’re a quality football team, and a great defensive team,” he said. “I think they’re a top 25 defense — they’ve got at least two (potential) draft choices. They’re going to be a great challenge for us, but our kids have overachieved all year.”
Quick hits — This is the 12th year for the Las Vegas Bowl … UNM is 2-4-1 all-time in bowl games. … The Lobos are the only NCAA Division I-A team to increase their win total in each of the last five years. … The teams are 1-1 all-time, with both previous meetings in Albuquerque. … OSU shared fifth place in the Pac-10 with Washington and UCLA. … In contrast to UNM, the Beavers struggled to a 2-4 finish after winning five of their first six games.