Stevens: Trojan Towers Try To Topple Top 20 Lobos

Dec. 4, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit

Wednesday: 8:15 p.m. (MT) - No. 18/20 Lobos (8-0) vs. Southern Cal Trojans (3-4)
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

A "Twin Tower" battle is always a marque invite to The Pit. But will there really be one Wednesday when the Southern California Trojans bring a trio of 7-footers to University Arena to play the Top 20 Lobos?

And which team really has the most to worry about when it comes to evaluating the Goliaths of the paint -- UNM or USC?

If you toss down the stats, it's the Trojans who need to fret. Consider these Twin Tower facts:

  • Of the four 7-footers to take the court Wednesday, Lobo Alex Kirk is both the leading scorer and the leading rebounder.

  • Kirk averages more points (11.5) than USC's 7-foot Dewayne Dedmon (6.0) and 7-1 James Blasczyk (1.7) combined.

  • Kirk averages more rebounds (8.3) than Dedmon (7.4) and Blasczyk (0.7) combined.

  • Kirk averages more minutes, more points and more rebounds than the 7-1 Blasczyk and the 7-2 Omar Oraby combined.

  • You toss UNM's 6-9 Cameron Bairstow into the equation, and the two Lobos wipe out the Trojan Triple Towers in minutes played, points and rebounds. Really, it's not even that close.

    "It just depends on how we get them into foul trouble or how they get us into foul trouble," said Kirk, evaluating the paint matchup. "We'll see how that goes.

    "I haven't played against a seven-footer in a while. Teams don't have that many seven-footers. That will be a fun matchup. It's a big challenge."

    This isn't saying that the Trojan Towers won't be a factor. They are nasty on defense and the 7-0 Dedmon and the 7-2 Oraby have 20 blocks on the season and do combine for a 12.3 scoring average. They are a factor. Their size could change the effectiveness of Kirk and Bairstow. We'll see.

    But to say a team has to concentrate on the Trojan Towers is like saying a team has to concentrate on UNM's Kirk and Bairstow, and ignore the Lobos' two top scorers: Kendall Williams (14.3) and Tony Snell (12.9), who play on the edge.

    The Trojans top four scorers line up on the perimeter: 6-3 J.T. Terrell (12.7), 6-6 slasher Eric Wise (10.4), 6-5 wing Byron Wesley (9.1) and 6-foot Jio Fontan (8.1). This is a Trojan team that will lean on Dedmon and Oraby to clean up things in the paint, but USC typically scores with guards and wings.

    Oh, the Lobos might see a Twin Tower lineup from USC, but Dedmon averages only 21.9 minutes, Oraby 12.9 and Blasczyk 7.3 minutes. The Twin Tower look is more a UNM thing where Kirk averages 26.6 minutes and Bairstow averages 19.5.

    "They are a very big team, a physical team," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford of the 3-4 Trojans. "This is about as good a .500 basketball team as you're going to find. One of the reasons they are (3-4) is they've played a brutal schedule."

    The Trojans lost 94-64 to Illinois, beat Texas in overtime 59-53, lost 72-64 to Marquette, lost 66-60 to San Diego State and is coming off a Monday 63-51 loss at Nebraska.

    The use of the Trojans' Towers was exposed a bit at Nebraska. Dedmon shot the ball two times and scored two points. Blasczyk and Oraby combined for one rebound in a combined 16 minutes. The 6-5 Wesley led the team in rebounds and blocked shots (3).

    The three top Trojan scorers at Nebraska started the game listed as guards: Terrell (14 points), Wesley (12) and Fontan (11). That trio all played more than 30 minutes. USC got seven points off the bench at Nebraska.

    So, will the Lobos be able to see the Trojan guards because of the Trojan trees?

    Yep, you can bet Steve Alford's Lobos will be prepped for their perimeter chores. Alford also knows that his Lobos, in The Pit, might be happier with a high-scoring, run-and-gun affair. USC prefers a slugfest, a game played in the 60s - or lower. They do not want the Lobos to have a lot of possessions in The Pit.

    "They are a very good defensive team," said Alford. "They are strong. They are physical. They don't really get out and extend a lot (on defense).

    "From the 3-point line down, they are really good defensively and when you put all that length and athleticism in there, there are not a lot of open spots. We're going to have to execute our offense well.

    "A lot of that will be our transition. Can we get defensive stops and run in transition to try and get some easy scores?"

    If USC gives defensive cracks on the edge, that might not be a bad thing - if you hit your shots. Nebraska got 34 points from two guards, who combined to go 9-of-15 from 3-point range. The Cornhuskers went 11-of-17 (64.7 percent) from long range and won the board battle, 31-27.

    The Trojans also need to play nasty defense since they can struggle on the offensive end - especially in the first half. The USC stats in almost every category improve in the second 20 minutes.

    Against SDSU, the Trojans missed nine of their first 10 shots and went 3-of-20 in falling behind 27-8. They had an 18-4 second-half run and had 18 offensive boards over the Aztecs.

    The Trojans have lost 11 straight road games and went 0-9 on the Pac-12 road last season. They'll be going against a Lobo team that will be stepping into The Pit Wednesday night for the first time this season as a Top 20 team.

    "That's huge," said Alford of the rankings. "Recruits see that. Fans across the country see that. Any time your name gets out there like that, that's all part of that national brand that we've been after. It's very big to be there (Top 20) this early in the season."

    Said Lobo Hugh Greenwood: "We're coming out with that swagger that we know we are a Top 25 team. We're not playing our best basketball, but to still be ranked ... "