Stevens: Lobos Look To Stay Undefeated Saturday When Valparaiso Visits Pit

Dec. 7, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit

Saturday: 7 p.m.(MT) - No. 18/20 Lobos (9-0) vs Valparaiso Crusaders (6-2)
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It's Indiana Mr. Basketball 1983 vs. Indiana Mr. Basketball 1994 only if Lobo Coach Steve Alford and Valparaiso's Bryce Drew decide to hold a free-throw shooting contest at halftime.

But there will be a meeting of the Indiana minds as Valparaiso's Drew tries to come up with enough Xs and Os to slap Alford's undefeated Lobos with their first loss of the season.

Drew might have a better chance at being named Indiana's Mr. Basketball for 2013.

For sure, it's not going to be easy to knock the Lobos off their undefeated (9-0) perch at 7 p.m., Saturday when the Crusaders of the Horizon League come into The Pit on a crusade to pull a major upset.

The Lobos have too much to lose via a loss and Valparaiso hasn't beaten a ranked team since 1998 when Drew hit a buzzer-beating trey in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It's unlikely that Drew will get off a shot Saturday in The Pit.

The Pit will be jammed and the Lobos are beginning to reach for the higher ceiling that Coach Alford believes his Lobos can obtain during the 2012-13 season. In UNM's win over Southern California, the Lobos strung together probably their most impressive 20-minute stretch of the season.

The Lobos crawled out of a 28-18 first-half hole into a 68-52 second-half lead.

"They (USC) started hot and if there was any adjustment it was done by the players," said Alford. "Our guys settled down a little bit and made it a little harder and we started to make some shots."

Against USC, it was easy to envision the ceiling that Alford seeks. His Lobos were fierce on defense, attacking on offense and nasty on the boards - for about 20 minutes.

However, they shot well most of the game. "We shot 52 percent and we have been shooting 40 percent," said Alford.

Valparaiso's - or any team's - worst nightmare in The Pit would be running into a Lobo team that shoots well. Alford demands a few constants from his Lobos that should always be there: defense, rebounding, unselfish play, honest effort.

His Lobos also are drilled to take good shots, but shooting comes and goes.

One Lobo who has been pretty much a deadeye this season is 7-foot Alex Kirk, who has stepped up along with 6-9 Cameron Bairstow to give UNM the inside presence it needs to complement the talent on the edge.

Kirk is shooting .528 percent. He went 5-of-9 vs. Southern Cal. Bairstow went 2-of-2 and is shooting .425 percent from the floor. Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood are both at 42 percent and Tony Snell is shooting 38 percent.

It might surprise some Lobo fans to learn that Chad Adams has the best shooting percentage on the team at 56 percent off the floor. Demetrius Walker, who went 2-of-7 vs. USC, is hitting at a 42 percent rate.

The Lobos' shooting has been hot and cold, but it has been defined by a number of Lobos who hit big shots at big times. That's one reason it's so tough to defend - and beat - these Lobos. You don't know where the next big shot is going to come from. There is a lot of balance in Alford's offense.

Williams tops UNM scoring charts with a 14.1 average followed by Snell at 12.2 and Kirk at 11.7 with an 8.8 board average. Williams, Snell and Greenwood have combined to take 233 shots and Kirk and Bairstow have combined for 112 shots.

Valparaiso won the Horizon League in 2011-12 and won 22 games in Drew's first year as head coach. The Crusaders are a strong pick to defend that Horizon title. They are ranked No. 16 in the Mid-Major Top 25 Poll.

The 6-2 Crusaders are led by 6-foot-7 Ryan Broekhoff, the Horizon League Player of The Year last season. He averaged 14.9 points and 8.5 boards a year back and is averaging 16.6 points and 7.4 boards coming into The Pit.

Broekhoff has 18 treys on the season. He played with UNM's Greenwood at the Australian Institute of Sports.

He gets solid scoring help from 6-8 Kevin Van Wijk, who averages 14.8 points and had 25 vs. Kent State. The Crusaders have won four of their past five games with the loss coming at Saint Louis.

Valparaiso averages 45 percent from the floor and 38 percent from behind the line. Broekhoff shoots 41 percent from 3-point range.