From the SIDelines

June 17, 2013

By Frank Mercogliano
Assistant Athletic Director of Communications

This is a new summer series called "From the SIDelines", which is written by the Sports Information Directors of the Athletic Communications Office.

1 Whoever came up with that title obviously didn’t have children. 
2 the defense wasn’t named for the number of guys on the line and at linebacker, but after the number of Doug Plank, who was the key cog in that defensive scheme as a safety. 

3 That’s exactly what happened vs. San Diego State my first year. Down two, SDSU hit a three, we rushed a late shot and missed, and D.J. Gay hit a half court shot to put UNM down eight, and then they opened the half with a three, and within 40 seconds, that deficit went from two to 11, and UNM never recovered. 

4 Whatever he said worked…he should bottle that one. 

5 Note to self, need to see the new Superman movie. 

8 and remember, he is laying in bed with a granola bar doing this interview. 

9 This is the reason we put guys in front of the media en masse at the end of games…otherwise it would be 10 separate interviews and they would never get to eat. 

10 My thought was they must pay the custodial staff very well at CSU. It was an iPhone 5

The number 46 can mean many different things to many different people. If you are a historian, the year 46 was known as the “Last Year of Confusion”1, which led to the 365-day Julian Calendar (the old calendar was 445 days, who knew?) 

If you are a Chicago Bears fan, there was the famous “46 defense” of Buddy Ryan and Mike Ditka2, which helped the Bears to the title in Super Bowl XX over New England. If you are a movie geek like me, you see that number and think of Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder, as that was the number on the car driven by Tom Cruise.

Well, I used to think that. I see that number 46, and all I will think about from now on, is probably what Lobo fans think as well. 46. Kendall Williams. At Colorado State. A game for the ages.

Now, this little essay isn’t really about the game itself (which was insane). I can tell you this…that was a big week. At CSU, and then San Diego State at home, a team that would have been in desperation mode with a shot at the title if we lost both games that week. That’s a bad and dangerous combination. Fans always talk about big weeks like that, but the players know it, even if they don’t say it. We all knew it.

My first two trips to Moby Arena went like this….2011, lose, everyone grumpy with me and the media. 2012, lose, everyone grumpy with me and the media. It was the only place in the league I hadn’t personally gotten a win at as well, but at practice the day before…on Tuesday, everybody was hitting shots…there was a great vibe, and the coaching staff was awesome, pumping guys up, fast pace, and the guys were listening, hustling…just a tremendous focus. I remember feeling good.

The game itself, especially the first half was a blur. That first half was tight throughout, with two showcases playing out. Kendall Williams was the main attraction, hitting for 20 points including five threes, going 6-9 overall in the first half. The undercard was Alex Kirk vs. Colton Iverson, two big bruisers with deft and touch around the paint. Alex was a monster with 12 points and four boards, matching basically Iverson, who had 13 points and four boards.

Kendall’s half was awesome, but I’ve done this enough to know it probably wouldn’t last. I remember Tony hitting four threes against Montana State and KRQE’s Lawrence Gilligan running over to me wanting to know school records for threes and such. Tony never got close that day, so I honestly didn’t pay it much attention.

There was a hidden key in that half…CSU was up 41-35 after a free throw with 45 seconds left, and Coach Alford and Neal always stressed this exact moment as a key swing for any game…UNM has the ball but CSU has the arrow. A bad shot gives the Rams the ball with enough time to get off a play and a shot. Say CSU hit a three and then open the half with a three…al of a sudden you are down 12. But, get a score and a stop, and you are down three…that’s a nine-point swing3 right there with hardly any time off the clock.

So Kendall got fouled on a quick drive and hit a free throw, and then UNM forced a CSU turnover, and Chad Adams hit a shot at the buzzer. Down three at the half….that’s manageable and it was the hidden key in that game. But back to Kendall.

He hit his seventh three-pointer to stop a run and cut the lead from 57-50 to 57-53, and that came with 13:43 … now that’s a lot of time to have seven threes, so I was OK with getting into the record books at that point, but with 9:02 left, he picked up foul number four, and off to the bench he went, where Noodles had a good talk with him4. He sat with 28 points…an incredible number with 9 minutes to go. Down 70-64, Coach Alford had to roll the dice and put him back in, and CSU for some reason was content to never drive at him (thank you very much, by the way). His entrance sparked five quick points with Alex hitting a three-point play, and then Kendall dishing to Cameron Bairstow for a jumper, and with just over five minutes to go, it was 70-69 Colorado State, and Kendall still was sitting at 28 points.

And then it happened. I saw Jimmer’s 52-point performance against us in 2011 (I kept the book), and it was incredible…an amazing feat. But he took 37 shots…he went 22-for-37. Kendall to this point has 28 points on 8-of 12 shooting. Kendall decided that UNM was going to win the conference championship that night. At that moment. Mark Chavez of the Lobo Lair likes to say Williams put the “S” on his chest5 and took over. It’s an apt description. Kendall scored 18 of UNM’s final 22 points (only Snell and Adams with two free throws each got also in there). Kendall’s three threes in a row destroyed that arena, that crowd. The buzz changed from “We are gonna be tied for first place” to “We can’t stop number 10”. It was the most amazing game performance, and five-minute performance I’ve ever witnessed on the court. Three-pointer number eight gave UNM an 8-point run and a 72-70 lead. After a swap of possessions, William dribbled up from the backcourt, pulled up, and drilled number nine, giving him 34 points, a tie for the school record, and UNM a 75-70 lead.

After a timeout and a Colton Iverson dunk was the piece de resistance…a shot for the ages. Kendall got stuck with the shot clock down in front of the bench…in the corner, which is the wrong spot, with the shot clock winding down. For reasons I’ll never understand, his defender with the shot clock at like two, backed off a step. That’s all a hot shooter needs, and Kendall rose, and drained it…buried it was Scott Galetti’s exact words. Thirty-seven points…six point lead. His dunk on the next possession basically ended the contest, although the parade of free throws that followed got him to the magic number of 46.

I can’t see the bench reactions usually, but it’s priceless on the video clip.6

Amazing…and it was nothing compared to the craziness that followed. Now it helped that Andy Glockner was in attendance, along with the NBC Sports Network audience, as this went national in a hurry. What most folks didn’t see was at the end of the game, I brought Kendall to the NBC crew and Stan Van Gundy (what an awesome guy…terrific and loves the game…also, I might have hugged Kendall a bit in my happiness…sorry about that KW). So Kendall does the interview, and as he leaves the court, we kind of weave him through the crowd, and Coach Alford is under the stands near the door, and bear hugged Kendall. It was one of the coolest, most genuine moments of the season…Steve had a pure joy for Kendall. That scene repeated itself when he walked out the door and Coach Neal was there for the same bear hug (he had no idea Steve bear hugged him…they couldn’t see each other). It was neat to see the same reaction and happiness…both coaches were thrilled for Kendall.

As they all made their way to the locker room, I ran back to the scorer’s table to grab my phone…it sat by itself for maybe 8-10 minutes…and there were missed calls. And texts. And emails. ESPN. CBS. Yahoo Sports. Fox Sports…name it…they called. Even two different XM shows. All wanted Kendall.

Now, the immediate need is the folks there….gotta take care of Geoff Grammer and the media there, so I got the iPad out for Kendall’s interview7 (which was great), and I gave him some time to be with his family, as he has a few relatives in Colorado. I made sure Coach Alford was good, as he was off recruiting right after the game and we were headed to Denver for the night.

Now, when I get all of these interview requests, what I basically do is write them all down on my legal pad in columns, station name, host name, production contact, number to call, time to call. Then I try to map it out. I knew we had a drive of about 45-60 minutes to dinner, and then a night in the hotel, so we had a little time, but you have to strike while the iron is hot. Kendall ended up doing three on the bus ride to the restaurant, one prior to his burger being served, one after he ate it and before dessert was served (you score 46, the whole team gets a scoop of ice cream apparently), and then two in the hotel.

When I hear interviews, I was always imagine, or have the image of a player in a suit and tie in a media room doing them. Let me dispel that notion. Kendall’s last interview was done on my phone with him laying in bed, a game on his iPad, eating a granola bar with Tony Snell right next to him with headphones on in his own little world for that moment. His ESPN interview with Andy Katz8 was that last one before I finally left him alone for the night. Seven different phone interviews doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the same questions each time. I got tired listening to him answer, I can’t imagine having to do those interviews like that9 like a machine gun just every 15 or 30 minutes.

The really funny part of the whole thing was actually prior to leaving the arena, when Kendall went back into the gym to see his relatives, he kept getting stopped by Colorado State students (mostly female…) to get his picture taken. These are the same students who booed him during the introductions…he must have taken 20-30 pictures, even one of the janitors whipped out an iPhone to take his picture10.

When we landed in ABQ, Kendall had to repeat the process with the local TV stations, and then it was over, no more 46, no more Colorado State…it was all about San Diego State coming to town to play on Wednesday, and what we had to do to get that win. Basketball is that fast…play a game, win a game, celebrate a game, and then the date changes and it’s who’s next? How can we beat them. It’s a never ending cycle during the season, but it certainly keeps you on your toes. In Kendall’s case, on his toes behind the three-point line.