Stevens: Lobos Ground Falcons 81-58 To Climb Higher On The Mountain

Feb. 6, 2013

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

Wednesday: New Mexico Lobos 81, Air Force Falcons 58
Saturday: 7 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico at UNLV Rebels - Thomas & Mack Center

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The Mountain turn was a sweet one. It produced a pretty Mountain-top view. Steve Alford and his No. 15 Lobos can turn around and look at - well, every other team in the Mountain West.

And the distance is growing.

"We have separated ourselves from a vast number of teams in the league," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford. "When you are trying to win a championship, you are trying to eliminate as many of those teams as possible."

New Mexico's 81-58 win over Air Force Wednesday in The Pit handed 20-3 UNM a 7-1 mark at the halfway mark which means the target on the Lobos' back gets bigger for the second-half run.

Let's face it. They are now the Mountain's Public Enemy No. 1.

That target might as well be glowing come Saturday when UNM ventures into the UNLV Runnin' Rebels' Thomas & Mack. The Rebels lost Wednesday at Fresno State, 64-55.

"We know if we are going to win a championship, we have to win some games on the road," said Alford. "It's going to be difficult (at UNLV). It is what it is. But we are going to UNLV with a three-game lead. That's a good feeling. We'll see what happens."

Said Kendall Williams. "We may not be the bully on the block, but we are in first place right now and we'll take it."

The road to Vegas should bring the Lobos into a hornets' nest. The Rebs, who won at San Diego State, are 4-4 and in a deep hole. They are on the same slippery slope that the San Diego State Aztecs were on when UNM visited SDSU.

The Rebels cannot afford to lose to the Lobos.

Heck, who can?

"I love Pit games. Nothing better," said Alford. "We are playing well. We are shooting better and we are executing. I thought we dominated the glass. I thought it was a really good performance by our guys."

The Lobos rolled to a comfortable 42-29 halftime lead and held back a couple of second-half charges by the Falcons. Air Force was down 57-51 with less than nine minutes to go. Fenton hit a tough, fade-away in the lane to beat the buzzer and that 59-51 lead charged up The Pit - and the Lobos.

Snell scored underneath and UNM was back up 61-51. Bairstow then powered inside for a short turnaround jumper and UNM was up 63-51. That 6-0 run turned a six-point lead into a 12-point lead with 6:55 to play. UNM had no trouble the rest of the way.

The Lobos shot 48.1 percent on the night and a warm 45 percent from 3-point range. The Lobos had all five starters reach double figures: Cameron Bairstow (14), Alex Kirk (14), Tony Snell (14), Hugh Greenwood (13) and Kendall Williams (11).

"We have to prove ourselves every single night we come on the floor," said Kirk. Williams added seven assists and four steals and Jamal Fenton came off the bench to dish out six assists and score five points. Bairstow had nine boards and Kirk had eight rebounds.

"We want to have a balanced attack," said Williams.

This was a game that probably most observers thought the Lobos would win, but not by 23 points. The Falcons' match-up zone is not easy to attack and their Princeton offense beats teams in many areas. But in The Pit on Wednesday the Princeton did not look Ivy League.

"The match-up (zone) works if you stand around and look at it," said Alford. "We refuse to let our guys do that. We thought we had a tremendous advantage inside with Alex and Cam close to the basket."

The Falcons got 16 points from Michael Lyons and 16 from Mike Fitzgerald, but no other Falcon scored more than six points.

UNM ruled the boards 39-24 and pleased its coach by making more points at the line (20-31) than Air Force shot (11-15).

"Air Force is not an easy team to get to the line on," said Alford. "To get there 31 times, I know how aggressive our guys are."

The Falcons shot 40.0 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent from long range (7-of-24). "I thought we defended the 3-point line well. We wanted them to finish against our bigs," said Alford.

First Half: New Mexico 42, Air Force 29

The Lobos shot 53.6 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from long range to carry a 13-point lead into the half. Air Force went 40.7 percent and 33.3 from 3-point range.

UNM got nine points inside from Bairstow and seven points and five boards from Kirk. Greenwood and Williams combined for 15 points and Williams dished out six assists in the half. UNM dominated the boards 21-11. The Falcons got eight points from Lyons.