Stevens: Lobos Burn Air Force 86-56 & Play For Mountain Title on Saturday

Feb. 29, 2012

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New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit
Wednesday: New Mexico Lobos 86, Air Force Falcons 56
Saturday: 2 p.m., Boise State at Lobos

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

A single statement by Lobo Coach Steve Alford said it all: "We are 40 minutes away from another championship."

The final 40 minutes come on Saturday when the Boise State Broncos invade The Pit for a 2 p.m., tip. If the Lobos win, they are 2012 Mountain West champs.

"We're excited to play that game," said Alford. "We should be rested and have a lot of energy for that game."

That final 40 minutes was set up by the outstanding 40 minutes the Lobos posted Wednesday night in The Pit in an 86-56 toasting of the Air Force Falcons. It was the second brutal beat down the Lobos put on the fly boys this season.

UNM ran to a 40-23 halftime lead, extended that gap to 72-33 at the 8:48 mark and strolled in for their 23rd win of the season. UNM is 9-4 in the MW race. Air Force drops to 13-14 and 3-10.

"I sure do like our team and I sure do like our depth," said Alford. "I'm extremely proud of our basketball team."

The Lobo win was set up by the early scoring of Drew Gordon and the second-half scoring of Hugh Greenwood. The 6-foot-9 Gordon had 16 first-half points to pace UNM to a 40-23 halftime lead. When Air Force folded down its defense in the second half, the UNM guards went to work.

"We wanted to go inside early," said Alford. "We were able to establish ourselves inside. We were able to establish ourselves on defense and we got out in transition.

"We shared the basketball. We didn't turn the basketball over. I thought our defense was back to being that stingy defense we've been seeing."

Gordon's inside muscle opened the perimeter for the Lobo guards in the second half and Greenwood took advantage. He scored 17 points in the final 20 minutes to close with 22 points.

"He finally shot the ball," said Alford of his freshman point guard. "We've been begging him for a month to shoot the basketball. Hugh is just so unselfish. Hugh is one of those guys where the first stat he looks at is assists-to-turnovers.

"I thought he had a special night."

The Lobos are looking for a special day on Saturday. A win will hand UNM its third league title in four years.

The Lobos shot a sizzling 49.2 percent from the floor, 55.2 percent in the first half. UNM won the board battle 44-32 and had only seven turnovers. Greenwood had six boards and Gordon ended with 17 points and 11 boards for another double-double.

Phillip McDonald had 13 points off the bench. Kendall Williams had seven assists and Tony Snell had five assists. "Tony and Kendall did a very good job of moving the ball for us," said Alford.

Air Force shot 36.5 percent from the floor, but the Falcons' 29.6 percent shooting in the first half helped the Lobos throw the Falcons into a hole. Air Force played 15 players, but only had one player in double figures - Taylor Broekhuis with 11. He scored nine points in the first half.

Second Half: New Mexico Lobos 46, Air Force 33

Really, the Lobos ended it early - probably in the first half. But UNM came out of their locker room and used back-to-back treys by Greenwood to produce a 51-29 lead that forced Air Force to burn a time out at the 16:01 mark. You get down to the Lobos by 22 points in The Pit and you are in trouble.

Air Force must not have mentioned the name "Greenwood" in its huddle. UNM came out of the break and Greenwood bombed again: 54-29. At the 12:47 mark, Cameron Bairstow knocked down two free throws to make it 59-30. UNM was a point away from doubling the Falcons' score.

At the 11:26 break, that double was on the board: 62-30. At the 7:35 media time, UNM was up 72-33. Greenwood had 20 points of 5-of-7 shooting from behind the line. The Lobos breezed to the 86-56 final. The Lobos were one win away from the 2012 MW title.

First Half: New Mexico Lobos 40, Air Force Falcons 23 >

The Lobos couldn't complain about the early tempo. It wasn't exactly run and gun, but it was quick enough for the Lobos to score 40 and for Drew Gordon to outscored Air Force most of the first half.

UNM went into the break shooting 55.2 percent with Gordon knocking down 16 and adding six boards. The rest of the UNM scoring was scattered among seven Lobos. Snell had four assists and Williams had four assists. UNM had only two turnovers in the first half and Air Force was pretty clean with four miscues.

Air Force was held to 29.6 shooting, but had to shoot well in the final 11 minutes to work up from 16.7 percent - a mark that had the Falcons down 16-6 with 11:38 to play. The Falcons ended shooting 8-of-27 with Taylor Broekhuis having the best half with nine points.

Both teams shot 4-of-13 from long range. UNM's edge was in the paint where it outscored Air Force 20-8. The Lobos also got nine points off the bench while the Falcons found no points off the pine.

A layup by Greenwood carried UNM into the first media break at 15:39 with a 12-5 lead. UNM was shooting 66.7 percent to 25 percent for Air Force. At the 11:38 break, the Lobos had extended their lead to 10 points: 16-6. The Falcons were now shooting 16.7 percent - 2-of-12 and 1-of-6 from long range. Gordon had outscored Air Force 10-6.

UNM went up 21-9 on a Demetrius Walker trey off the left wing. Good ball movement led to a McDonald trey from the baseline and UNM was up 24-11 at the 7:19 break. Air Force had warmed up to 21.1 percent, but Gordon was still ahead of the Falcons 12-to-11. UNM was shooting 55 percent - 11 of 20. The Lobos were up 16-to-4 in the paint.

The Falcons continued to have no defensive answer for the Lobos and UNM rolled to the 17-point halftime bulge.