Stevens: Lobos' Sweet 16 Dreams Crash in 59-56 Loss to Louisville

March 17, 2012

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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It was a sweet season and a sweet second-half New Mexico rally against an in-your-face Louisville defense, but once again the Lobos' path to the Sweet 16 was just beyond their reach.

Louisville ran to a 15-point second-half lead and fought back a furious, Drew Gordon-paced New Mexico rally to post a 59-56 win. Louisville marches on to Phoenix while the Lobos end their season with 28 wins and probably a few "what-ifs."

Like what if the Lobos hadn't missed 18 3-pointers and what if the Lobos had gone to the line more than eight times in a game that could be called back-alley physical.

"This was definitely a knock-`em-down, drag-out fight," said Craig Neal, UNM's Associate Head Coach. "But we had our chances. It was a tough loss. We thought we'd get over the hump. We couldn't make shots and it's a credit to them.

"We played good defense, but it was one of those things. It just didn't happen."

The Lobos ended the third-round game in Portland's Rose Garden shooting 39.7 percent from the floor, going 5-of-23 from 3-point range. At one point in the game, UNM missed 11 straight 3-pointers. Louisville shot better at 45.8 percent overall and 46.7 percent from long range.

Still, the gutsy Lobos fought back and, as Neal put it, had their chances. The Lobos had won 64 straight games in which they gave up fewer than 60 points. Louisville snapped that streak by scoring 59 points.

"We played a great defensive game," said Louisville Coach Rick Pitino. "I'm real proud of our guys. We're going to the Sweet 16."

The Lobos were a few shots and a few turnovers away from saying the same thing.

"We had some open shots in the second half, but we couldn't knock them down," said Neal. "Our guys battled to the end and we wouldn't have expected any less of them."

The Cardinals went up 44-29 at the 13:03 mark of the second half, before the Lobos recaptured momentum to trail 49-46 with 5:09 to play. At the 1:38 mark, the Lobos were down 53-51 after Demetrius Walker lofted in a huge 3-pointer from the baseline.

But Louisville made enough plays to hold off the New Mexico charge. A huge bucket for Louisville came with 31 seconds to play when Peyton Siva split the UNM defense and kicked the ball back to a breaking Gorgui Dieng. The 6-foot-11 center pounded down a dunk to push the Cardinals up 57-53.

Siva appeared to ice the game with ten seconds to go by knocking down two free throws to form a 59-53 Louisville lead. Gordon made it interesting by tossing in a long 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds to play.

UNM was down 59-56 and almost got the ball back as Louisville had to call time out attempting to bring the ball in-bounds. On their second chance, Louisville got the ball in and that ended it.

Gordon finished his career as a Lobo with another monster game: 21 points and 14 rebounds. He got double-figure help from Kendall Williams with 11 points and five assists. Lobos Hugh Greenwood and Tony Snell combined to go 1-of-9 from the floor.

The Cardinals' top gun came off the bench as Russ Smith scored 17 points, going 3-of-3 from behind the line. Kyle Kuric had 10 points and Chane Behanan had ten points. Dieng had 10 boards for Louisville.

The Lobos won the battle of the boards, 26-25.

Second Half: Louisville 33, New Mexico 31

The Cardinals used a couple of 3-pointers in front of the Louisville bench to help them take a 36-29 lead into the first media break at 15:07. UNM's four points came from Hardeman inside and Gordon on a 15-foot jumper.

Louisville came out of the huddle and struck quickly using steals off two Greenwood turnovers to go up 41-29. The Cardinals were on a 15-4 run to start the half.

Another UNM turnover led to a Chris Smith trey and Louisville had extended its gap to 44-29. UNM then got a layup from Jamal Fenton and another layup by Fenton off a steal. That 44-33 count convinced Pitino to call a time out.

The Cards came out of their huddle and turned the ball over and A.J. Hardeman scored off a Gordon feed: 44-35. The Lobos had survived that Cardinal run and had pulled out of that 15-point hole into a nine-point deficit at the 10:17 media break.

The Lobos, who had missed 11 straight treys, decided to get the ball inside to Gordon. He scored twice off the glass and pulled UNM to 47-39 going into the 7:23 media break. The big Lobo was coming out of that huddle shooting a free throw. He missed, but UNM got the board and Williams finally broke the ice from long range and UNM was down 47-42.

Kyle Kuric, Louisville's leading scorer, hit two from the line and Gordon got even with a backwards alley-oop dunk: 49-44. Cameron Bairstow blocked a shot for UNM inside and Gordon was fouled and hit two: 49-46. The Lobos had momentum, but it was still a dogfight and there was fight in both teams.

The Cardinals' Behanan missed two free throws, but Gordon got tied up in the paint and Louisville got the arrow. Silva drove and fed Behanan for a drop-in layup: 51-46.

UNM turned it over and dodged a bullet as Kuric had a good look at a baseline three but missed. Snell then missed a trey for UNM and Siva split the Lobo defense for an unguarded layup: 53-46.

The Lobos almost lost the ball on a scramble, got it back, almost lost it again, but Gordon was fouled at 1:52 and looking at a one-and-one. Gordon made them both: 53-48.

Louisville made a huge mistake by not getting the ball in-bounds under UNM pressure. Gordon missed an off-balance shot, but UNM got the rebound and found Demetrius Walker in the corner. His high 3-ball hit nothing but net and UNM had life at 53-51 with 1:36 to play.

Louisville broke the Lobo press and Russ Smith got fouled by Gordon on a drive: 55-51. Gordon then got a left-handed tip on a miss by Hardeman: 55-53.

Siva again darted into the heart of the Lobo defense, stopped, and kicked the ball back to the 6-11 Dieng, who threw down a monster dunk. Williams missed for UNM, but the Lobos got the rebound only to turn it over.

Siva was fouled and made two: 59-53. That seemed to end it for UNM, but Gordon threw in a long trey to form a 59-56 count with 2.9 seconds to play. The Cardinals almost lost the ball again on the in-bounds, but called a time out - just barely.

They then got the ball in to Elisha Justice, who missed the front end of a one-and-one, but with two seconds to play, all Gordon could do was launch the ball harmlessly down the court.

First Half: Louisville 26, New Mexico 25

The Lobos had a huge scare in the first half when Gordon went down with 4:47 left to play, stayed down for several minutes, before limping off to the locker room. The good news is that Gordon was back on the court with 1:18 to play.

The first half had some slow stretches and some helter-skelter stretches with neither team establishing much of a rhythm or any kind of dominance. UNM ended the half shooting 37.9 percent and Louisville went into the halftime break shooting 40.7 percent.

Williams had eight points for UNM and Louisville got nine points off the bench from Russ Smith. Gordon had five boards in 15 minutes of play. UNM won the rebounding battle, 20-14 and turnovers were not a huge factor with UNM committing seven miscues and Louisville five.

The Lobos' Williams matched the Cardinals on buckets to form a 4-4 tie and then UNM went up 6-4 on a follow by Hardeman. A Snell trey followed by a Gordon bucket inside had the Lobos up 11-6 and Louisville's Pitino called a time out.

The Cardinals scratched back into a 14-14 tie before Williams scored out of transition to put the Lobos up 16-14. The teams were tied at 16s and 18s before a McDonald trey put UNM up 21-18. UNM carried that 3-point cushion into a media break at 7:38. At that point, UNM was winning the board battle 12-6. UNM was shooting 47.4 percent (9-19) and Louisville was at 50 percent (8-16).

The Cardinals came out of their huddle and went on a quick 6-0 run off two 3-pointers by Russ Smith. That 24-21 Louisville lead had New Mexico asking for a break. UNM got a bucket inside from Hardeman to make it 24-23 and then at 4:47 Gordon went down after a scramble under the Cardinal bucket. He stayed down for a few minutes and then limped to the locker room.

Louisville got a bucket on the baseline from Wayne Blackshear to take a 26-23 lead into the 3:34 media break. UNM's shooting had dipped to 37 percent while the Cardinals were still at 50 percent.

The Lobos got good news at the 1:18 mark: Gordon came back into the UNM lineup. The score was still 26-23 in Louisville's favor. Williams scored on a drive to form the 26-25 halftime count.