Stevens: Alford's Lobos Look For Good Ending

Feb. 28, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit

Wednesday: 6 p.m., Air Force (13-13, 3-9 MW) at New Mexico (22-6, 8-4 MW)
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The finish definitely isn't ho-hum. The winner will have to have strong legs, a strong heart, and a little help from its enemies.

The New Mexico Lobos stumbled out of the Mountain West gate, took a two-game lead in the back stretch, stumbled again, and make the turn toward the finish line neck-in-neck with San Diego State and UNLV.

Will it be a photo finish with three teams at 10-4?

"I think we are as urgent as we've ever been," said Lobo Drew Gordon. "It's a street fight every time we go out. It's not going to be a cake walk."

Said teammate Kendall Williams: "We're real hungry as a team. We have a chance to get a ring and go to Vegas on a two-game winning streak."

What waits at the finish line is a Mountain West title for one, two or maybe three teams. There also is a seeding factor at the end for the upcoming Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, but that's really too complicated to simplify at this point.

We'll just say this: SDSU's loss to Air Force might prove beneficial to SDSU, if the Aztecs hold on to grab a share of the title.

The Lobos, Rebels, and Aztecs are all in control of their own destiny when it comes to snatching at the 2012 title. The Lobos need to beat Air Force and Boise State - in The Pit. SDSU needs to beat Boise State and TCU - on the road. UNLV goes to Colorado State and plays host to Wyoming.

You have to give the Lobos a tiny edge. They have The Pit and play the two teams at the bottom of the MW standings. Air Force and Boise State are 3-9 and the only two teams in the conference which do not post overall winning records.

The Rebs' journey to CSU and SDSU's visit with the Horned Frogs does not look appealing, especially if you look back on UNM's losses last week at CSU and TCU. These teams are tough -- and undefeated -- at home.

The good thing for the Lobos is they will wear a ring regardless of what Rebs and Aztecs do as long as the Lobos take care of business in The Pit.

"These guys have done an unbelievable job," Alford said of his 22-6 Lobos. "They are going to put their best foot forward and they are going to give us maximum effort.

"We're battling for our third title in four years. We're talking about a special feat, if it can happen. But we're going to have to play well."

The Lobos that ventured to Fort Collins and Fort Worth did not play well. "We got both team's best efforts and we didn't handle it very well," said Alford. The Lobos that play in The Pit rarely don't play well. "I'm glad we're playing at home in front of our crowd and in our Pit," said Alford.

The Air Force game has a curious tone to it. The Lobos slapped down the Falcons 81-42 at the Academy. The 39-point beating was Air Force's worst home loss ever. . The UNM bench scored as many points as the Falcons' team.

But since that beat down the Falcons fired their coach and have played better ball. But can they step into The Pit and turnaround a 39-point beating?

"We got out and got in front in Game One," said Alford. "That's always been a big key when you play Air Force. If you let them get out and get going, then the game just continues to get slower. We don't want that. We want to dictate tempo."

The Lobos' preferred tempo in The Pit is rock & roll transition. They have the guards to get down the court. They have the depth to wear you down. They have big men in Gordon, Cameron Bairstow and A.J. Hardeman, who run the court well.

The Falcons can't allow this. They seem to have put a little more zip and gamble into their offense, but it's still the Princeton, which uses motion and screens to wear on the other team's patience.

"They spread you out and they do a good job of dribble drive," said Alford. "They are shooting the ball better."

The Lobos ran into a Colorado State team that attacked off the dribble and shot the ball well. UNM lost, 72-63. The Falcons, who average 61.6 points on offense and yield an average of 59.9 points would be overjoyed to keep the score in the low 60s. They also need to hope that the Lobos have an off shooting night.

At Air Force, UNM shot 59.3 percent - 61.5 percent in the second half. UNM was up 40-19 at the half. The tempo was all Lobos.

A key to the Falcons' tempo is the shooting touch of Michael Lyons, who averages 15.8 points per game. Mike Fitzgerald has a 10.5 average. UNM's big three in scoring is Gordon (12.5), Williams (12.4) and Tony Snell (11.3). The Lobos also get scoring, depth and tempo off their bench.

Alford doesn't ho-hum the importance of UNM's final two games and says, "We need to finish."

"I want our team to be under urgency in the last week," he said. "That means we are playing for something. We have to get back to defending the way we were defending before this road trip.

"I'll be very surprised, if we don't come out Wednesday with a hunger and an energy to try and get this thing right."

Said Gordon: "Let's make it a good ending."