Stevens: Lobos Visit Desperate CSU Rams In a Sold Out Moby Arena

Feb. 22, 2013

New Mexico Men's Basketball - Mountain West - At Colorado State

Saturday: 2:05 p.m.,(MT) - No. 16/16 New Mexico Lobos (22-4, 9-2 MW) at No. 21/22 Colorado State Rams (21-5, 8-3) - Moby Arena
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

Maybe this is exactly how it should be: A Colorado State team on the ropes shouldering a grimace of desperation; a New Mexico team proudly walking into a buzz saw of Ram emotions looking to deliver a potential knockout punch.

In a sold-out gym.

"You are going to have a lot intensity," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford. "You are going to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and passion on the floor among players."

The gym is going to be wild, too. The CSU students battled an icy Fort Collins' morning (Wednesday) to snatch up their 2,500 tickets in about three hours. The line actually began forming the previous night around 11 p.m.

The intent here is obvious: The CSU students want to help their Rams pound the Lobos. They want to help the Rams stay alive in the Mountain West race. They want to keep CSU's 27-game home win streak intact.

Mostly, they want to see the Lobos go down.

The game is huge. In Fort Collins, it is being billed as one of the biggest games in Moby Arena history - for good reason. It is one of the biggest games in Moby Arena history. The student line outside Moby Arena is reportedly the longest ever. The frozen students are hot for this game - so is Fort Collins, which bought up all the other tickets last week.

Is this a game or a rock concert? For sure, the Moby Arena will be rocking and the message from that is not subliminal. The Ram players know they are playing for an entire Ram community. This isn't just a staying-alive thing. This is a pride thing.

The Rams are ranked No. 22/21 and play the No 16/16 Lobos, who are a game up on CSU thanks to the Ram's painful 61-59 loss Wednesday night at UNLV.

If the Rams win, they pull into a tie with UNM. If the Lobos win, they jump up by two games with four to go: San Diego State and Wyoming in The Pit; Nevada at Air Force on the road.

Yeah, this game is huge. You simply can't give the Lobos a two-game lead with four to go even in a league as cutthroat and balanced as the Mountain West.

"We are either going to have a two-game lead on everybody with four to play or we are going to be tied with one of them (CSU) with four to play," said Alford.

"We have a locker room full of guys who have won it and understand a championship run. They have a group in their locker room who is trying to breakthrough (with a MW title)."

The Lobos won The Pit battle 66-61, but the Rams gained confidence from a second-half charge that saw them pull out of a 22-point hole into a three-point hole. CSU got into foul trouble in the first half and needs to avoid that handicap in Fort Collins.

CSU outrebounded UNM by 14 in The Pit and shot better. The Lobos got 23 points from Tony Snell and again leaned on their nasty defense, perseverance and poise down the stretch.

"We are playing in their building now and that's a huge difference," said Alford.

The energy in Moby will be anti-Lobo. The gym is not huge - 8,745 capacity - and has the look of a big high-school gym. But there is a passion for this team that has helped the Rams post 27 straight wins in Moby.

"The atmosphere there has changed drastically," said Alford. "They weren't selling out two and three years ago. They have gotten to play in front of that enthusiasm and it's helped them."

It might help the Rams that their backs are against the ropes. UNM ran into similar buzz-saw attitudes at San Diego State and at UNLV - and lost. The Rams might not have the pure athleticism of Aztecs or Rebels, but they are a more fundamentally conscious group. Like the Lobos, they do so many little things well.

The Rams rebound, leading the nation in rebounding margin. They take good shots. They honor possessions. They play position defense. They seek to win as a team by utilizing individual skills within that team concept.

Like the Lobos, they are good inside and out.

They are led inside by 6-10, 260-pound Colton Iverson, who averages 13.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. They have three other Rams in double figures in 6-2 Dorain Green (12.9), 6-3 Wes Eikmeier (11.8) and 6-6 Greg Smith (11.5). The 6-foot-5 Pierce Hornung is an overachiever on the boards with his 9.4 average and he also averages 9.8 points.

These five motivated seniors get 22 treys off the bench from sophomore Daniel Bejarano, a transfer from Arizona. This is the main thrust of the CSU team which has won 21 games and knows a win over New Mexico is an NCAA-resume builder.

"In my opinion, they are as good as anybody we've played," said Alford. "This is an outstanding team. It's a huge challenge, but one our guys are looking forward to. I don't know if we can outrebound them. That's going to take a Herculean effort to do something like that."

Said UNM's 7-foot Alex Kirk: "Iverson is one of the best centers in the league. I don't really do excuses, but last time around I really didn't give him my best shot."

Iverson had 15 points and 14 boards in The Pit. Kirk had three points and three boards. The Lobos got past CSU despite a subpar effort inside. Cameron Bairstow had four points and two boards.

The Lobos got 13 points and six boards from Chad Adams, got the Rams into foul trouble, forced 16 CSU turnovers, and outscored CSU by eight from the free-throw line.

Will those things repeat themselves on the Ram floor?

"We need to come out with a little more fire," said Kirk, looking back on losses at SDSU and at UNLV. "We need to put ourselves in a good (position) to win at the end. At home, they are going to be shooting even better than they did (in The Pit). We are going to have to improve our game plan even more."

The game plan probably doesn't change too much. Don't get killed on the boards. Push Iverson out of the paint. Don't let Green, Smith, Eikmeier and Bejarano hurt you too much on the edge. Don't let Hornung get any garbage buckets. Play great defense. Take good shots. Be poised and resilient. Hang around until the end.

And leave the Moby Gym crowd is a whole lot of pain.

"Any road game in this conference, you have to survive the first few minutes," said Lobo Kendall Williams. "Punch `cause teams are coming to knock you out. We have We have to make sure whatever punch they have, we can match it and hopefully amplify it and reverse it on them."

Alex Kirk says the Rams did not get his best shot in game one.


Probable StartersHTPositionSeason Statistics
10 - Kendall Williams 6-3Guard13.1 Pts. - 4.6 Asts.
21 - Tony Snell 6-7Wing11.6 Pts. - 2.7 Asts.
53- Alex Kirk 7-0Center11.2 Pts. - 7.9 Rebs.
03 - Hugh Greenwood 6-3Guard7.8 Pts. - 5.2 Rebs.
04 - Chad Adams 6-6Forward5.0 Pts. - 3.5 Rebs.

The NM BenchHTPositionSeason Statistics
13 - Jamal Fenton 5-9Guard4.2 Pts. - 1.4 Asts.
40 - Demetrius Walker 6-2Guard5.0 Pts. - 1.2 Rebs.
41 - Cameron Bairstow 6-9Post8.6 Pts. - 5.2 Rebs.
01 - Cleveland Thomas 6-3Guard1.0 Pts. - 0.7 Rebs.
23 - Nick Banyard 6-8Forward1.0 Pts. - 1.7 Rebs.
02 - Chris Perez 6-1Guard1.0 Pts. - 0.0 Rebs.
24 - Kory Alford 6-4Guard0.1 Pts. - 0.1 Rebs.

Coaches: Steve Alford (head), Craig Neal, Duane Broussard, Drew Adams