Stevens: Lobos & Kirk Defend Their House in 65-60 Win Over UNLV

Jan. 9, 2013

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New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - Mountain West - In The Pit

Wednesday: New Mexico Lobos 65, UNLV Runnin' Rebels 60
Saturday: 1 p.m. - Fresno State vs. Lobos - In The Pit

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It wasn't simply the Lobos' Pit Wednesday night when the No. 19 UNLV Rebels and their highly-publicized freshman sensation, Anthony Bennett, came to visit. It also was Alex Kirk's Pit - his house.

He defended it well. And Chad Adams and the Lobos defended Bennett well.

"I did what I could," said Kirk.

"(Kirk) was the best player on the court tonight," Lobo Kendall Williams.

The Lobos' 7-footer got 23 points, nine boards, one block and one steal as the Lobos stormed past the Rebels in the closing minutes and held on for a 65-60 Mountain West Pit win.

"He was outstanding tonight," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford of Kirk, who came back this season after sitting out a year with a back injury. "He did the work to get his body right and his mind right.

"This was a huge win for us. I thought Chad's effort was unbelievable. That was a huge task to guard a guy like Bennett."

The Vegas' freshman got into foul trouble in both halves and finished with 12 points and six boards. Kirk was joined in double figures by Tony Snell with 13 and Kendall Williams with 11 points. Adams led all rebounders with 10 as UNM won the glass battle 41-37.

"They (Rebels) were ready and our guys were ready," said Alford. "Both teams made it hard on each other to score.

"I just thought our guys battled. That's who these guys are. They have incredible fight. We won this because of (our) effort. They don't care who gets the shots or who gets the points or the praise. It's a fun team, but it's a grinding team. They fight like crazy."

The Lobos did not have a good shooting night from the floor hitting 22-of-57 shots for a cool 38.6 percent. The Rebels weren't much better at 40 percent. However, UNM went 15-of-29 from the floor and Vegas went 4-of-5 from the line. The Lobos drove into pressure. The Rebs faded away from it.

"We took really good shots and we got to the free-throw line," said Alford. The Lobo coach said UNM's shooting percentage "tells me how hard my guys play and what kind of fight they have in them. If you go back and look at our 14 wins, there are a lot of them that look like this one."

Yeah, it was a grind. The Lobos could have made it easier on themselves with better shooting from the line - 51.7 percent with 14 misses, including some key ones late in the game. But down the stretch, UNM often followed a miss at the line with a rebound or a defensive stop.

The Rebs finished with 17 turnovers, 11 in the final 15:12 of the second half.

Bennett came out in the second half and hit two treys that forced Alford to call a timeout, but Bennett was not a factor and spent too much time sitting next to Vegas Coach Dave Rice.

"When you play guys like that, you have to really make them guard," said Alford. "We were able to do some things to get him into foul trouble."

Said Kirk: "We just kind of went at him. He's young. He has to learn a little bit about that (fouls)."

The win pushed UNM to 14-2 overall and the 1-0 Mountain West mark reflected an all-important defense of The Pit. "Home wins are going to be tough; road wins are going to be tough," said Alford. "They (UNLV) are an outstanding team."

Said Kirk: "In this league, you definitely have to protect your house. Every game is going to be a battle."

Second half: New Mexico 31, UNLV 30

The Lobos got off to a good, quick start off a Snell trey to expand their 34-30 halftime lead to 34-30. A few minutes later a couple of treys by Bennett convinced Alford to burn a timeout at 16:43 with his Lobos down 43-39. Bennett did have three fouls at that point, picking up No. 3 holding UNM's Kirk on a drive.

Vegas held a 45-39 lead at the 15:12 media break. The Rebels were shooting 75 percent in the second half at that point (6-of-8) and UNM was at 16.7 percent (1-of-6).

The Lobos came back once again going to their big man. Kirk scored inside twice and UNM was down 45-43. Those Lobo buckets were sandwiched around Bennett picking up his fourth foul at 14:14 - backing into Adams in the paint. A Snell drive and sweet touch off the glass formed a 45-45 tie. Bairstow muscled in a power bucket inside and UNM was up 47-45. Vegas quickly made it 47-all.

At the 7:39 break, a Bairstow dunk had UNM up 52-51. Bennett had still not returned for Vegas. The Rebs needed to get their star back onto the court. He joined the lineup after the break.

A Williams' trey made it 56-51 for UNM. Vegas scored in transition to cut its hole to 56-53. UNM called time at 4:00, up 56-55. Bairstow powered up a shot inside, but got a bad roll from the rim. Vegas' Hawkins hit a trey on the other side and Vegas carried a 58-56 lead into the 3:06 media stop. It was going down to the wire.

Bairstow missed two from the line and Kirk made one and missed. Williams battled for the loose ball, kept it alive, and the ball went off a Rebel foot into the crowd. It was a key hustle play that led to a Williams' trey and a 60-58 UNM lead. Vegas called time at 2:04, down two in the rowdy Pit.

Vegas lost the ball on a Bennett turnover. Williams' missed a trey, but Vegas mishandled the rebound and Greenwood got the board. Williams went to the line with 41:5 to play looking at a one-and-one. He made and missed, but Bairstow tipped out the long rebound.

Williams was back at the line looking at two. He made and missed, but made it a two possession game at 62-58. Vegas got a quick layup - 62-60 - and a quick timeout. The Rebels came out and fouled Snell with 25.4 to play. He missed and made, and Vegas was down a trey with 25.4 to play.

Reinhardt forced up another running trey from way out. He missed short and Greenwood got the long board and a quick Rebel foul. He went to the line with 13.5 to play probably needing only one to ice the game. He missed short - and missed long. Vegas turned it over on an out-of-control drive and fouled Snell with 7.0 to play.

Again, UNM was looking for that all-important single point. He made both: 65-60. That was it. The Lobos opened the MW wars with a win.

First Half: New Mexico 34, UNLV Rebels 30

It was a good half for the Lobos and a great half for Alex Kirk, easily the best big man on the court for the first 20 minutes -- and probably the most talked about Lobo in the Rebels' locker room. If the Rebels were going to leave The Pit with a win, they had to cool Kirk's hot hand.

The 7-foot Lobo finished the half going 5-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-4 from long range and 4-of-6 from the line. His 16 points were 10 more than any Lobo and eight more than any Rebel. He also had five boards along with Adams' five as UNM ruled the glass 23-15.

The Lobos shot 40.6 percent from the floor, warming up as the half proceeded and warming up as the ball went to Kirk. Greenwood, Williams and Snell combined to go 4-of-13 from the field in the half. The Lobos fell behind in turnovers 6-1, but that count was 7-6 in Vegas favor at the break. The Lobos scored off several turnovers in the close of the half to help them to their 34-30 lead.

UNLV's super freshman, Anthony Bennett had a ho-hum first half to score four points and bring down two boards in 13 minutes. The Rebs needed to take Kirk out of the game, but they also needed to get Bennett into the game. Khem Birch paced the Rebs with eight points.

Right away, you could see how much UNLV Coach Dave Rice respected The Pit. His Rebels got down by two baskets and he burned a timeout and called his squad to the bench. The Rebs looked long, lanky and talented but were not shooting well. They forced a few shots over good UNM defense and simply threw up some bricks.

The Lobos stayed up until 11-9 at the 11:41 break. Vegas then got on an 8-0 run and went up 17-11. UNM was down 19-12 when it came storming back. A Kirk trey was followed by a Snell layup. UNM was down 19-17. A Reinhardt trey for Vegas made it 22-17 at the 7:55 break, but the Lobos slowly and steadily stole away the rest of the half.

Williams scored in traffic to cut UNM's gap to 22-21 and a quick turnaround trey by Snell made it 24-22 in UNM's favor. A short Kirk jumper off a Bairstow feed had UNM up 34-27 before UNLV hit a trey in the final minute to form the 34-30 halftime count.