Stevens: Alford's Lobos Understand They Must Earn What They Expect To Get
Feb. 20, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - On The Mountain West Road
Tuesday: 8 p.m. (MT), New Mexico (22-4, 8-2 MW) at Colorado State (16-9, 5-5 MW)
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
So, how do you make sense of what the New Mexico Lobos are doing prior to their Tuesday jaunt up to Fort Collins to try and shear some hot-and-cold Colorado State Rams?
How do you explain UNM getting on a seven-game roll while UNLV goes into overtime at Boise State and Air Force and loses at TCU and loses by 20 in The Pit?
How do you explain San Diego State losing at Wyoming and at Air Force when the Lobos walked out of those gyms with impressive wins? The Lobos won by 39 at Air Force. Are the Lobos this much better?
How do you explain the Lobos losing by nine to New Mexico State in The Pit and winning by 20 in the Pan American Center? That's a 29-point turnaround! How do you explain the Lobos losing in The Pit to SDSU by five and winning by ten in San Diego?
How do you explain the Lobos losing by 17 in Vegas and beating the then-No. 11 Rebs by 20 in The Pit? That's a 37-point turnaround? Do the Lobos have this much edge in talent? No way.
Sure, you look at a special team with a special chemistry and a love of defense. Sure, you look at Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams taking their game to another level. Sure, you look at the New Mexico bench which is probably the best in the Mountain West.
But those things alone really don't explain this metamorphosis. Maybe you have to throw in two more words: Steve Alford.
The job Alford has done with these Lobos probably rivals what he did in 2010 when UNM dropped its first two league games and then finished 14-2. Alford can't quite match that miracle work. His Lobos actually started off this MW season with a win before falling to 1-2. And like Alford says, "We still have a lot to do. This race isn't over with yet."
For sure, the Rams are a key contest for Alford's Lobos. CSU is at home. CSU is well coached. CSU has some shooters. Heck, they'll probably give away free pizza again.
It's also a test for Lobo focus because Alford's 13 Days of Challenge were designed to push the Lobos to the top of the Mountain standings and prepare them for wars with SDSU and UNLV. The Lobos now stand atop the Mountain. They beat the mighty SDSU Aztecs and beat the mighty UNLV Rebels.
They have a two-game lead with four to go. Are the Lobos going up to Colorado State on a sigh of relief?
Is there any Lobo who can envision a UNM loss at Colorado State? Yeah, at least one: Alford, which is a good thing. That means he will dot his Is and get his Lobos to focus their eyes on the Rams. Or else.
Alford is a coach who pays attention to details and understands how important the fundamental aspects of this game are to victory - especially when shots aren't falling.
There are teams across the country and in the Mountain who believe that they will win simply because they are quicker and more athletic and can jump higher than their opponents. And then they don't block out, or don't provide help defense, or they take bad shots. And they lose.
They don't respect the notion of earning what you expect will come to you.
The Lobos aren't a complete team either, but they are trying to be one and - thanks to Alford - they understand what is needed and what has to be earned.
The Lobos honor the basic needs of basketball and when the shots aren't falling, they have something to fall back on. They honor defense. They honor possessions. They understand that taking good shots is as vital to a possession as much as not turning over the ball.
You can't promise that the Lobo team going to Colorado State won't be severely tested. You can't promise that the Lobos will win. CSU is capable. The Rams are 12-1 in Moby Arena. They beat SDSU by 17 on this floor.
Of course, the Rams have other ideas. They are coming off a nice win over the Wyoming Cowboys and still have a respectable - NIT enticing - 16-9 record. But they are 5-5 in the Mountain West and also could use another signature win to go along with that SDSU spanking.
If they can beat the Lobos who beat SDSU and who beat UNLV - if they can beat the No. 18 ranked Lobos, a team winning its MW games by a plus 13.3 points - well, that's a signature. The NIT would take notice.
One huge key for CSU is to outshoot the Lobos. The Rams have a couple of capable guns in Wes Eikmeier (16.2) and Dorian Green (13.0). They have a couple of decent board men in Pierce Hornung (8.2) and Greg Smith (5.2).
They also are going against a Lobo team that tops the Mountain in both field-goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense.
This is one of those little things that an Alford teams does. They take good shots. They force teams into bad shots.
They also are good at winning on the road because they get it. They understand that they must earn what they expect to come to them.