Stevens: Lobos Go Perfect From Line to Claim Paradise Jam Title

Nov. 19, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - Paradise Jam - U.S. Virgin Islands

Monday: New Mexico Lobos 66, UConn Huskies 60
Sunday: New Mexico Lobos 70, George Mason 69
Friday: New Mexico Lobos 66, Illinois-Chicago 59

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The New Mexico Lobos backed up a miracle finish with a poised finish, polished off the No. 23 UConn Huskies 66-60, and will leave the U.S. Virgin Islands as the 2012 champions of the Paradise Jam Tournament.

The Lobos maybe weren't perfect on the floor but they were perfect at the free-throw line Monday night going 21-of-21 from the charity stripe which helped make up for a cooler 39.6 percentage from the field.

It was a trip to St. Thomas that featured snorkeling, a title, a tourney MVP in Kendall Williams, and a victory over a ranked team that pushed UNM to 5-0 on the year. You could say the trip was perfect for Steve Alford and the Lobos.

"I like the fight in this team," Alford said of his Lobos. "I think we won this championship at the free-throw line.

"Obviously, it (free-throw shooting) is emphasized. But the guys have to get there first and then make them. We're making them. We set a school record tonight."

The Lobos appeared to have lost momentum down the stretch as the Huskies ran off 11 unanswered points to claim a 55-53 lead with 2:24 to play. Hugh Greenwood snapped that run with a huge trey (56-55 UNM) and then UNM's Lobo Chad Adams came up with a big bucket and a big defensive play that helped shift momentum and push UNM to the title.

Adams got a garbage bucket to make it 58-55 in UNM's favor and then took a charge that led to a Tony Snell basket and a 60-55 Lobo lead. Snell probably iced the game with two free throws with 39 seconds to play that put UNM up 62-55.

Still, the Lobos had to make plays through the final half minutes - and they did.

"Any time, before Thanksgiving, you can have three wins away from your place, that's huge," said Alford. "This is the first team (Alford-coached UNM team) to get a holiday tournament win and this is a prestigious one.

"It was great. We beat a national ranked team in the third game in four days. We showed some of our depth and I like how we guarded. We know we have a lot of weaknesses and we have to get home and work on those weaknesses over the holidays.

"But this win makes the long trip home tomorrow (Tuesday) very, very nice."

The Lobos ended with four players in double figures: Williams (15), Greenwood (12), Snell (11) and Alex Kirk (10). UNM's work at the free-throw line obviously was key. UConn went 7-of-9 from the line. The Lobos also ruled the boards vs. UConn: 30-24.

The Huskies got 23 points from Shabazz Napier. Williams' got the MVP with a line that showed 15 points, five assists and five boards. Snell joined his teammate on the all-tourney team.

Second Half: New Mexico Lobos 36 UConn Huskies 33

The Lobos came out of the locker room nursing a Snell-produced 3-point lead and quickly extended their lead to 39-29 with a 9-2 run. UNM got buckets from Kirk, Snell (2) and Williams to form that 10-point lead at the 16:23 mark.

UConn came back as Napier warmed up. A 3-pointer by Napier cut UNM's gap to 39-35 at the 14:22 mark. Napier scored unguarded underneath on an in-bounds play and the Huskies had an 8-0 run and a two-point deficit at 39-37. Napier had 15 points.

The Huskies' run was broken at the free-throw line by Chad Adams' two free throws: 41-37. Napier came back with another trey for his 18th point: 41-40 UNM's favor. Williams rolled off a Cameron Bairstow screen to answer Napier's bomb: 44-40. That count carried into the 11:21 break.

Bairstow powered into a jump hook to push UNM up 46-40. Napier answered inside: 46-42 at the 9:59 mark. A second past the halfway mark of the second half, UNM had extended its 3-point halftime lead to four points. At the 7:50 break, a Williams' trey helped push UNM into a 51-42 lead. Williams also had warmed up.

UConn scratched to 53-49 on a turnover-produced trey by Ryan Boatright and UNM called time with 4:45 to play. Greenwood missed a shot and the Huskies bombed in another trey: 53-52. The score followed the two teams into the media break at 3:50.

UNM went inside twice but Kirk walked and Bairstow missed a shot. Boatright was fouled by Williams shooting a trey and made all three: 55-53. It was UConn's first lead of the second half. Greenwood then launched long and scored: 56-55 in UNM's favor at the 2:12 mark. That bucket ended an 11-0 UConn run.

Napier tried a trey, missed, and Greenwood got the board. Adams found a garbage bucket at the other end to push UNM up 58-55. Adams took a charge on the defensive side which led to a Snell bucket and a huge 60-55 UNM lead. UConn missed and Snell went to the line with 39 ticks to play. He made both and the Lobos were up 62-55 - seven points with 39 seconds to play.

Napier gave UConn a chance for a miracle finish with a bomb that pulled the Huskies to four points at 64-60 with 10 seconds to go. Williams sealed the title with two free throws with nine seconds to go.

That ended it.

First Half: New Mexico Lobos 30, UConn Huskies 27

The so-called big guns for the two teams didn't erupt in the first half. Snell and Williams combined to go 1-of-8 with Snell scoring three points and Williams two points. Kirk had 10 points and Greenwood had eight. Napier had a quiet seven points in the half for UConn.

UNM shot 8-of-24 in the half (33 percent), but worked the free-throw line for 11-of-11. UConn went 3-of-5 from the charity stripe. The Huskies went up 6-2, and 23-17 before UNM had a 10-2 run to grab a 27-25 lead. Snell hit a 3-pointer to end the first-half scoring and hand UNM the 3-point lead.