Stevens: Alford's Road Warriors Move On To Saint Louis

Dec. 30, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - At Saint Louis

Monday: 5:35 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico Lobos (13-1) at Saint Louis (9-3) - Chaifetz Arena
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB; CBS Sports Network (Dish 158, DirecTV 613, Comcast 274) GameTracker, Game Story, Complete Stats
Up Next: Jan. 9, UNLV at New Mexico - Bob King Floor

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It is a question that on the surface sounds ridiculous to throw at enemies of Lobos: "Would you rather play the Steve Alford Lobos in their Pit or on your home court?"

If you scratch into the stats surrounding this question, maybe the answer is you don't want to play these Lobos at all. For sure, as an opposing coach or player, you aren't that cozy with your so-called, home-court advantage.

The 2012-13 Lobos are 13-1 so far with that single loss coming in The Pit. They are 6-0 off the Bob King court. These numbers are not flukes. Last year the Lobos were 8-3 on the road and 14-5 away from The Pit.

You have to figure the Saint Louis Billikens are happy with the site for Monday night's New Year Eve visit by these road warriors from New Mexico. You also have to figure the Billikens know they have to play at a high level in order to maintain their current six-game win streak.

These Lobos can be downright nasty on the road.

New Mexico is coming off a statement win in Cincinnati where the Lobos handed the No. 8 Bearcats with their first loss of the season in a 55-54 nail-biter.

In a way, the game depicted exactly why the Lobos do so well on the road. They play defense. They take good shots. They rebound. They fight like junkyard dogs down the stretch. Simply put, they hate to lose.

Hey, if they make a shot or two in the run to the wire, the other guy is in trouble.

The win at Cincinnati was a gut-check win with a meat-grinder theme for 40 minutes. UNM scored a season-low 22 first-half points and shot 38 percent on the night and slapped down a nationally-ranked team on its home floor.

The Billikens are not ranked, but they will present UNM with a severe challenge. They have rolled out six straight home wins and return their starting point guard, Kwamain Mitchell, who missed Saint Louis first 11 games with an ankle injury. He is on the Cousy Award watch list which also includes UNM's Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood.

"They return probably their best player and they have been playing very well without him," said Alford. "It's another good road test for us."

Mitchell played in Saint Louis' 68-41 romp over SIU-Edwardsville and had a modest debut with four points and five assists. The Billikens are paced in scoring by Dwayne Evans with a 12.3 average. The mobile, junior forward is shooting 55.1 percent from the floor.

Mike McCall Jr., scores at a 11.8 clip and shoots .522 percent from long range (24-of-46). Cody Ellis averages 10.6 points. Evans is Saint Louis' top board man with a 6.7 average.

Jordan Jett has been running the point in Mitchell's absence and he has 50 assists and 24 turnovers. Mitchell improves the Saint Louis ball handling and its attack.

The Billikens are still the precise, tempo-minded team produced by the late Rick Majerus, formerly with the Utah Utes. They average 66.3 points and allow 55.4 points per contest.

The Billkens will play a bit like the South Dakota State team that upset UNM in The Pit. They will try to create a rhythm, a tempo, that suits their talent. They will try to make UNM work for shots out of a half-court set and stop UNM from scoring in transition.

The Lobos are led in scoring by Kendall Williams with a 14.9 average followed by Tony Snell at 11.5 and Alex Kirk at 11.2. Kirk tops the UNM glass charts with 7.4 boards a game.

The Kirk-Cameron Bairstow combo averages 19.3 points and 12.5 boards. Saint Louis needs to control that Lobo inside duo, if they want to maintain their home-court streak. Saint Louis needs a solid defensive game from 6-11 Rob Loe.

As for the Lobos, you sometimes wonder if they even know they are on the road.