Stevens: Alford's Lobos Close Regular Season in Falcons' Rowdy Clune Arena

March 8, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -Mountain West - At Air Force

Saturday: 4:05 p.m. (MT) No. 11/12 New Mexico (26-4, 13-2) at Air Force (16-12, 7-8) - Colorado Springs
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network; Altitude Sports-TV (DISH 410, DirecTV 681) GameTracker, Game Story, Statistics, Audiostream

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In a way, the New Mexico's Lobos stroll into the Air Force Academy's Clune Arena has all the markings of a Steve Alford "trap" game.

Except for a few things.

1. These Lobos don't like to lose.
2. It's a matchup nightmare for the Falcons.
3. The Lobos are trying to make history.

The Steve Alford Lobos have a chance to become the highest NCAA Tournament seed in New Mexico men's basketball history. The Lobos have twice marched into March Madness as a No. 3 seed - the last time in 2010 when they were hammered out of the postseason party 82-64 by Washington.

The Lobos may or may not need a Mountain West Tournament win to grab a No. 1 seed, but there is a strong chance all the Lobos need to secure a No. 2 seed is a win over Air Force.

That's pretty heavy motivation.

"The nice thing is just being talked about, that were even discussing the possibility of a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed," said Alford. "That tells us where the program is. That tells us, `You're an elite (program).' Just to be talked about in seeding that high, that's very special."

But, like they say, talk is talk. The Lobos need to continue to pad their NCAA resume and a win over Air Force is almost as important as a win over Nevada. There is a little gray area here because the Falcons, 12-2 at home, are pretty good and a loss in Clune Arena would not be a horrible loss.

But why take the chance!

"It's one of those things where we have to keep proving ourselves," said UNM's Alex Kirk.

The Steve Alford Lobos have never lost to Air Force. They simply stomped down the Fly Boys 81-58 on Feb. 6 in The Pit in a game to determine first place. The Lobos clinched the Mountain West regular-season title last week notching a three-game lead with two to play. They are playing the game at a high level.

This game is for icing, for pride - and for seeding. For the Falcons, it's a great chance to humble the King of the Mountain and gain some momentum for next week's Mountain West Tournament being played on the UNLV Rebels' home floor in Las Vegas.

The Lobos are a lock for at least an NCAA at-large bid. The Falcons would have to pull out a miracle on the Thomas & Mack floor.

"It gets tougher and tougher," said Alford. "Air Force is playing for a winning season in league play and I know that's going to be important for them.

"Their crowds are bigger. It's a tougher place to play now. It's their senior night. That's going to be a very difficult game for us."

The Falcons' crowd in Clune is getting a reputation as being one of the more rowdy groups in the Mountain. Lobo fans might recall a number of years back when UNM went to Air Force with a slightly pudgy 7-foot center and the Air Force crowd taunted that Lobo with a pizza box attached to the end of a fishing pole.

The Lobos have a 7-footer in Kirk and he could be a huge key to UNM's win in Clune along with his Twin Tower mate, 6-9 Cameron Bairstow. Kirk and Bairstow combined for 28 points and 17 boards in game one in The Pit.

Their inside presence also opened up the edge as Hugh Greenwood (13), Kendall Williams (11) and Tony Snell (14) also reached double figures. UNM shot 48.1 percent. The Falcons need to cut into that percentage on Saturday.

The Falcons have a top gun in Michael Lyons, who averages 17.9 points. He is the only Falcon in double figures, but Mike Fitzgerald scored at a 9.9 clip and Todd Fletcher has a 9.4 average. Lyons and Fletcher have 48 treys.

Air Force shoots at a hot .474 clip, average 70.4 points, and the Falcons' shooting percentage out of their Princeton offense is a key to their success. They are solid inside, but not intimidating. They need to score off execution.

"We know we're going to get everybody's best shot," said Alford.

Steve Alford


Probable StartersHTPositionSeason Statistics
10 - Kendall Williams 6-3Guard13.8 Pts. - 4.8 Asts.
21 - Tony Snell 6-7Wing11.8 Pts. - 2.8 Asts.
53- Alex Kirk 7-0Center12.0 Pts. - 8.1 Rebs.
03 - Hugh Greenwood 6-3Guard7.3 Pts. - 5.0 Rebs.
41 - Cameron Bairstow 6-9Post9.1 Pts. - 5.5 Rebs.

The NM BenchHTPositionSeason Statistics
04 - Chad Adams 6-6Forward4.7 Pts. - 3.2 Rebs.
13 - Jamal Fenton 5-9Guard3.9 Pts. - 1.3 Asts.
40 - Demetrius Walker (suspended) 6-2Guard5.0 Pts. - 1.2 Rebs.
01 - Cleveland Thomas 6-3Guard1.1 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