Stevens: Relaxed Lobos Are Still Focused On A Win At Nevada

March 5, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -Mountain West - At Nevada

Saturday: 8:15 p.m. (MT) No. 11/12 New Mexico (25-4, 12-2) at Nevada (12-16, 3-11) - Reno, Nevada
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network; CBS Sports Network (Dish 158, DirecTV 613, Comcast 274) GameTracker, Game Story

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It's a week of paradox for the 2013 Mountain West Conference champions.

Steve Alford's Lobos go on the Mountain West road relaxed but keenly focused. They go on the road not needing to win, but needing to win.

They go on the road to enjoy what they have accomplished, but riveted on what can still be accomplished. The go on the road with pride in what lies behind them, but wanting to earn more prideful stuff.

What lies behind the Lobos is the pressure of winning the Mountain West title. "Nobody would have predicted that anybody would have won this league with two games to play," said Alford. "They (Lobos) did that work."

What also lies behind the Lobos is the pressure of making the NCAA Tournament. Maybe you are never an at-large lock until the bracket is unfolded on national TV, but - yeah - the No.11/12 ranked Lobos are a lock.

"It's a lot of fun knowing that, in early march, we pretty much know we are in the tournament," said Alford. "I would put our resumes up against anybody. I think our resume is as good as anybody in the country. Now, we can add to our resume."

That statement kind of produces the catch-22 dilemma of UNM's final Mountain West road swing of 2013 into the hostile gyms of Nevada and Air Force. The Lobos can be relaxed because they have clinched the MW title and Alford says he wants his Pack to be loose.

But there are other carrots dangling tantalizingly close to the Lobos' nose. There is talk that the Lobos could grab a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But do you grab such a lofty seed, if you lose at Nevada or at Air Force?

Do you need to win at Nevada and at Air Force and then nail down the MW tourney title in order to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed? Maybe. Coach Alford talked about the "realities" of the NCAA bracket that seems to favor teams in BCS conferences to UNM's East.

That's why you kind of figure when the ball goes up Wednesday night in Nevada's Lawlor Events Center the Wolf Pack will be facing a lot of energized Lobos.

The Lobos seed in the 2013 NCAA Dance won't be known until after the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, but wins help and losses hurt.

"There is never anything more important than wins, but we get to go a week where there is no pressure," said Alford. "It's been a grind after grind after grind and the players have been under all kinds of pressure. There is no pressure this week.

"It (results) doesn't affect our seeding in the conference tournament. What we are able to do is continue to build an NCAA resume."

Or damage one.

That is why wins at Nevada and Air Force are important - but not critical. The Lobos will enter the MW tournament as the No. 1 seed. They will enter the NCAA Tournament. But that NCAA seed is not known.

"That's something special," UNM's Alex Kirk said of a No. 1 NCAA seed. "I don't know if we'll have that opportunity, but all we can really do is win basketball games. I don't see why not (No. 1). Why can't that happen for us?"

It's a tough week for the Lobos in other ways, too. At the news conference prior to leaving for Nevada, there were questions about a No. 1 seed and even a few questions about marching on to the Sweet 16.

Hey, the Lobos still have two regular-season games, the Mountain West Tournament is a week away, they don't know where they will fall in the NCAA bracket -- and already Sweet 16 talk is swirling. Crazy.

"It's tough, but it's something you have to deal with," Kendall Williams said of the distractions. "If you lock in for those games (Nevada, Air Force), you typically don't think too much about it. If we can wrap up conference with two wins, that would be big for us."

The Nevada Wolf Pack isn't too intimidating when you look at their record. They are 12-16 overall and 3-11 in the Mountain. They just lost at home by 17 points to UNLV.

But the Wolf Pack has one of the best one-two guard punches in the Mountain behind Malik Story (16.4 ppg) and Deonte Burton (15.8). If this Pack is hot from the edge, they can beat you.

"Burton and Story are terrific guards," said Alford. "They are high volume shooters who can really score with the basketball. They can score it off the dribble. They can shoot the three. They'll go to the post. They are terrific in transition.

"It starts with them and obviously we have to move beyond them win personnel, but they are two of the biggest keys."

Said Kirk: "They are a really athletic team and they have some height in a lot of different positions. It's going to come down to stops."

The Lobos got some stops in their 75-62 Pit win, outscoring Nevada 25-to-11 down the stretch and pulling out of a 51-50 deficit. UNM shot 56 percent from the field and 11-of-21 from 3-point range. Hugh Greenwood had 15 points and Demetrius Walker had 12 points off the bench. Walker will not be on the Lobo bench this week as Alford suspended Walker indefinitely.

Nevada shot 40.7 percent in The Pit and made ten treys. They won the board battle, 33-29.

"Our guys are going to fight. It's just not having that extra burden," said Alford. "I expect we are going to be very good on the road this week. It's going to be, I hope, a lot of fun for the guys knowing they can relax and play and not have that burden of just intense pressure.

"Because that's coming."

Yeah, it's coming. It is waiting in the Vegas Thomas & Mach. It's waiting in the NCAA Dance. The pressure at Nevada and at Air Force might not be "intense," but these are games the Lobos need to win for reasons beyond Las Vegas.

Cleveland Thomas

Jamal Fenton with MW Championship cap


Probable StartersHTPositionSeason Statistics
10 - Kendall Williams 6-3Guard13.9 Pts. - 4.8 Asts.
21 - Tony Snell 6-7Wing11.4 Pts. - 2.7 Asts.
53- Alex Kirk 7-0Center12.0 Pts. - 8.0 Rebs.
03 - Hugh Greenwood 6-3Guard7.4 Pts. - 5.1 Rebs.
41 - Cameron Bairstow 6-9Post8.9 Pts. - 5.4 Rebs.

The NM BenchHTPositionSeason Statistics
04 - Chad Adams 6-6Forward4.7 Pts. - 3.3 Rebs.
13 - Jamal Fenton 5-9Guard3.8 Pts. - 1.4 Asts.
40 - Demetrius Walker (suspended) 6-2Guard5.0 Pts. - 1.2 Rebs.
01 - Cleveland Thomas 6-3Guard1.2 Pts. - 0.8 Rebs.
23 - Nick Banyard 6-8Forward0.9 Pts. - 1.5 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