Feb. 24, 2009
Saturday: Lobos 76, TCU 62
Up Next: Lobos at CSU, 7 p.m. Saturday
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was fitting that UNM senior Chad Toppert broke two things with a 3-pointer at the 9:21 mark Tuesday night in The Pit as 14,777 Lobo fans watched and cheered.
The long, high-arching Toppert trey broke the 1,000-point barrier for a player not everyone thought would turn into such a good Lobo. The shot also put New Mexico up 54-42 and broke the back of the upset TCU was trying to pull out of The Pit. UNM won 76-62 to raise its season mark to 18-10 and stay alive in the Mountain West race at 9-4.
"I never thought when I came here as a freshman that I would score 1,000 points in my career," said the Albuquerque Academy product. "That just shows how far I've come as a player."
Said senior Daniel Faris: "A thousand points, you have to work hard to do that. That takes time."
Said Lobo coach Steve Alford: "That's a great tribute to him. He is going to go down as maybe the best 3-pointer all-time at UNM. He made some really key shots for us tonight."
In a way, it was surprising that UNM needed many key shots against TCU. This was the Horned Frog team that UNM pounded 69-52 in Fort Worth. But the Frogs definitely had their horns on for the Lobos Tuesday night in The Pit. TCU trailed 32-30 at the half and 42-38 at the 13:49 mark of the second half before the Lobos slowly and surely pulled away.
"I didn't like our focus and our concentration in the first half," said Alford. "But we really responded in the second half. I thought in the second half our seniors really came to the forefront. I challenged them at the half. It wasn't so much we weren't ready to play. It was just a mindset."
Faris was one of those seniors who stepped up. He had four points at the half and finished with 20 points, including a 12-for-12 effort that puts him in the record book as one of four Lobos who have shot 100 percent at the line (12 attempts minimum).
UNM's other two seniors, Toppert and Tony Danridge, finished with 12 and 17 points, respectively. Roman Martinez led UNM on the boards with seven and Dairese Gary and Nate Garth each had four assists. Freshman Phillip McDonald had seven points and two steals.
The Lobos shot 46.8 percent on the night and TCU shot 44.2 percent. UNM shot 40 percent in the first half. "We came out sluggish in the first half and coach let us know at halftime," said Toppert. "We came out a different team. We can't start that way when we play on the road or we'll get beat."
UNM overcame a shaky moment in the first half when freshman Will Brown got called for a technical foul after exchanging elbows with TCU's Zvonko Buljan, which allowed TCU to tie the game and grab at some momentum. Martinez took the air out of that Frog moment by burying a 3-pointer a few seconds later to push UNM up 17-14.
"Buljan did his thing most of the night and Will reacted to it," said Alford. "You can't make those plays and that's got to be a lesson he has to learn." Alford said part of that lesson was Brown joining Alford on the bench. Buljan played a physical game against the Lobos and ended with 16 points, 16 rebounds and nine turnovers.
Faris said he had no problem with the intensity Buljan displayed in The Pit. "He plays very hard," said Faris. "He's a great player and he was doing everything he could to help his team win in a hostile environment."
After Toppert's key trey at the 9:21 mark, UNM went up by as many as 14 points before TCU cut the lead to 65-57 with 3:41 to play. Faris went to work inside and got fouled at the 3:41 media break. The 6-foot-9 center came out and knocked down both freebies and UNM was up 67-57.
TCU forced up a bad shot and Toppert was fouled at 3:11 on a transition break. The senior pushed UNM up 69-57 and TCU called a timeout at 3:07. The gap was just too much for TCU. UNM got two free throws from Faris at 18.1 as the Lobos coasted in to the 76-62 final.
"Not ever win is going to be pretty," said Faris.
The Lobos next stop is Saturday in Fort Collins, Colo., to battle the improved Colorado State Rams. "It's going to be even harder on Saturday," said Alford. "Colorado State is playing better. We're fired up. It's an exciting time and our guys are having at lot of fun, but there is pressure that comes with it."
There was some pressure Tuesday against the Frogs, but things ended well and Alford already was working on relaxing his Lobos. As he left the media's post-game interview, Alford passed Toppert, one of the best free throw shooters in UNM history, and Faris, who has struggled a few times at the line.
"Daniel, you shoot the tech (technical foul shot) next time," said Alford, referring to Faris' perfect night at the line.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner