Stevens: Lobos & Indiana State Linked By History But Motivated by Now

Nov. 30, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - At Indiana State

Saturday: 12:05 p.m. (MT) - No. 23/25 Lobos (7-0) vs. Indiana State Sycamores (4-1)
On the Air: 770-AM KKOB - Lobo Radio Network; Webstream at Game Recap, Full Stats, GameTracker

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The history that links Indiana State to New Mexico really has nothing to do with the Lobos' and the Sycamores' run Saturday in Terre Haute.

It's a new time with new coaches and new players looking for a win -- now.

But it's a cool footnote.

The architect of New Mexico basketball, Bob King, who was instrumental in placing New Mexico on the basketball map (1962-72) and moving Lobos from Johnson Gym to The Pit, coached at Indiana State from 1975 to 1978. He was the Director of Athletics from 1974 to 1980.

King recruited maybe the best Lobo ever in Mel Daniels and the best Sycamore ever in Larry Bird. The Lobos play on the Bob King Floor in Albuquerque.

On Saturday, Steve Alford -- the Lobo coach entrusted to try and push New Mexico to levels never obtained by King -- tries to take yet another step on that journey in a battle with Sycamores.

Alford's goal at New Mexico is similar to King's goals at UNM and at Indiana State: a national title. That's what winners shoot for.

King came excruciatingly close to that goal when his Larry Bird-led 1978-79 Sycamores' team played Michigan State in the NCAA Championship game. King did not make that season, stepping down for health reasons.

In the big picture, the non-conference game vs. Indiana State is neither a stumbling block nor a jettison for the Lobos and Alford in their intended climb. There will be more important Mountain West and NCAA wars down that path.

In the small picture, it's an important game. The Lobos carry rankings of No. 23 and No. 25 into Saturday's hardwood battle and a win or a loss will influence those rankings.

The 7-0 Lobos like to be ranked. They like being undefeated. They like to win, too.

The Lobos and the 4-1 Sycamores share that link with Bob King, but the two programs have never met. The two teams meet Saturday as part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge Series.

The Lobos and the Sycamores have another link. Indiana State's coach, Greg Lansing, was an assistant to Alford at Iowa from 1999 to 2006. "He's going a really good job there and they're off to a great start," said Alford.

The Sycamores have a number of potent weapons, but -- so far-- an exceptional one in Lucas Eitel, who is 14-of-19 (73.7 percent) from 3-point range. That mark tops the national charts. Eitel is No. 3 on the Sycamore scoring charts with a 9.2 average. But he has yet to face the tenacious UNM defense.

The Sycamores are led by quick-handed Jake Odum with a 13.2 average followed by 6-foot-9 R.J. Mahurin at 10.8. The Sycamores top board man is 6-6 Manny Arup with a 5.8 average followed by 6-8 Justin Grant at 5.6.

Indiana State is kind of a board-by-committee team and the Lobos will have a slight edge in depth. The Sycamores have only seven players averaging more than 20 minutes a game. If the Sycamores can't handle the Lobos inside, UNM might see more minutes from 6-10 Jake Kitchell, a defensive enforcer.

"They're going to have one of their biggest home crowds yet so it'll be a good game," said Alford.

The Sycamore ride a four-game win streak at the Lobos after losing their opener 86-59 at No. 13 UCLA.

The Sycamores are not huge inside and will be well tested by UNM's 7-foot Alex Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow.

"We want to win it but it is going to be tough," said Kirk. "This will be the first true road game of the season and they are a really good basketball team

"They have only lost to UCLA. This is one of our biggest challenges yet"

Kirk and Bairstow are coming off big games for the Lobos in their win over Mercer. Kirk hit his second-straight double-double with 16 points and a career-high 13 boards. Bairstow also had 16 points.

The Lobos went into the season with a small concern about inside production and rebounding, but Kirk and Bairstow have been more than solid. They give UNM a potent inside-outside attack. The UNM edge is patrolled by two of the Mountain West's top guards in Tony Snell and Kendall Williams.

Snell tops the UNM scoring chart with a 13.7 average followed by Williams at 12.9. Kirk averages 11.7 points and 8.9 boards and Bairstow averages 9.0 points and 4.9 boards.