Stevens: Lobos Face Improved TCU Horned Frogs in Fort Worth

Feb. 24, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - On The Mountain West Road

Saturday: 5 p.m. (MT), New Mexico (22-5, 8-3 MW) at TCU (16-11, 6-5 MW)
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The Steve Alford Lobos don't exactly have their backs to the Mountain West wall because they still have a one-game lead over the pack of Rebels and Aztecs breathing down the Lobos' neck.

But it the Lobos reach back, they can feel the wall. They probably can hear and smell the hot breath come from San Diego State Aztecs and UNLV Rebels.

You can bet that part of the battle cry on Saturday for Rebs and Aztecs will be, "Go Horned Frogs!"

For sure, the Lobos have made it interesting as they head into Saturday's 5 p.m. (MT) tip with a TCU Horned Frogs team that would like nothing better than to knock off another Top 25 team.

The Frogs jumped on the then-No. 11 UNLV Rebels and a win over No. 18 New Mexico would hand TCU back-to-back wins over a ranked program for the second time in program history.

The Frogs earned that distinction for the first time by beating No. 11 New Mexico in 1998 after beating No. 24 Hawaii. Yeah, the Frogs and the Frog Fanatics will be jumping big time on Saturday.

The Frogs are playing well. They ride a seven-game home court streak into the MW contest and also have a five-game MW winning streak in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. The Frogs also would like to snap an eight-game losing skid to the Lobos.

TCU hasn't beaten UNM since January of 2008. The Frogs are just like the CSU Rams: They defend their turf with a passion. The Lobos definitely need to return that passion.

The Lobos lost a seven-game win streak by falling at CSU. The Lobos played hard, but did not play well and seemed emotionally drained after wins over SDSU and UNLV. The Lobo might be a little road weary heading into Fort Worth as weather in Denver prevented UNM from returning to Albuquerque after the loss at CSU.

There are several reasons the Frogs have been playing well lately. First, they are making their treys. They average nine per game in league play, tops in the Mountain. They lead the league in 3-point percentage at 38.7 percent.

The Frogs also have put a new emphasis on defense and are forcing an average of 16.3 turnovers per game. The Lobos had 17 turnovers in their 71-63 loss in Fort Collins. The Rams came up with nine steals.

Another reason the TCU Frogs are on a good streak is the play of Hank Thorns. The athletic Thorns is No. 4 in the Mountain in 3-pointers, assists and 3-point percentage. The 5-9 guard tops TCU in scoring with a 13.0 average and is joined in double figures by 6-5 J.R. Cadot.

The Lobos are paced by Drew Gordon at 12.7, Kendall Williams at 12.5 and Tony Snell at 11.4.

The Lobos' lead on the Mountain seemed large a few days ago, but, with three games to play, UNM is only two games up on CSU and TCU.

The Lobos sit 8-3 followed by UNLV and SDSU at 7-4. Colorado State and TCU are on the next ledge of the Mountain at 6-5. Wyoming has faded to 4-7 and Air Force and Boise State have climbed to 3-8.

Yeah, it's an interesting shuffle going down to the stretch run and there doesn't look to be any "gimme" games coming up at the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.

The Lobos had firm control of their own destiny a few days ago before losing at Colorado State. The Lobos still have control. If they win their final three games, they will be the 2012 King of the Mountain.

That crown also could push UNM to the side of the MW bracket that doesn't feature SDSU or UNLV - but there are a lot of games to be played before that scenario can be finalized.

Of course, the road game at TCU is a pivotal step in UNM's climb to the crown. The Horned Frogs and their purple-painted crowd went nuts when Vegas fell in Fort Worth. TCU overcame an 18-point deficit to post that upset. The Frogs play well in front of their crowd and have been playing with confidence of late.

In Game One in Albuquerque, UNM rolled TCU out of The Pit 71-54. The Lobos used a 12-0 run to go up by 17 points and then pulled out of a 51-45 score by finishing the game with a 20-9 run.

That was in The Pit. UNM also beat CSU by 33 in The Pit.

TCU is 12-2 at home this season. The Frogs know who to stop, if they want to go 13-2 at home. Snell scored 18 points in Game One. UNM also outscored TCU 32-16 in the paint, but a lot of that inside scoring came in transition.

Thorn scored only eight points in The Pit for TCU and the Frogs had only three offensive rebounds in that loss.