March 3, 2009
Tuesday: Lobos 77, Utah 71
Up Next: Lobos at Wyoming, 1:30 p.m. Saturday
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Oh, baby, can we do it again? Same ending. Same rockin' Pit. Same Lobos.
Heck, bring on the same Utah Utes! Let `em throw two Luke Nevills on the court. Don't mean nothing. Daniel Faris will manhandle `em. Tony Danridge will drive on `em. Chad Toppert will shoot over `em. Roman Martinez will beat `em in all the other ways you can beat on Utes.
The Lobos wild 77-71 win over the Utah Utes Tuesday night in The Pit had probably everything you could ask from a Lobo/Ute Mountain West Conference war. Players hammering on players. Coaches yammering at coaches. Lobos beating Utes as The Pit went from nuts to nuttier.
It's possible the Utes never really had a chance in this thing. The deck was loaded on them from the beginning. They were Utes in a sold out Pit. Not a good combination for a basketball player from Utah. And there was enough love in The Pit for Lobos to start up a hippie colony.
"They energize us and they were tremendous right from the start," Lobo coach Steve Alford said of the standing-room-only crowd of 18,018. "This was a tremendous win for our program, for our team."
The win pushed UNM to 20-10 on the season and 11-4 in the MWC. Better yet, it means a Lobo win at Wyoming on Saturday will give UNM at least a share of the 2009 MWC title. The Utes also are at 11-4 and finish at home vs. TCU. BYU is 10-4 and play at Wyoming on Wednesday and finish at home vs. Air Force.
"We're not satisfied yet as a team," said Faris, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. "This won't mean nothing, if we don't win at Wyoming."
Well, that might not be completely accurate. Anytime you beat the league-leading Utes in The Pit, it means something. Especially the way the Lobos scratched this thing out on Senior Night behind the play of their three departing seniors: Faris, Danridge and Toppert.
Sometimes the best gift you can get is one you give yourself. That trio of Lobos celebrated their farewell night in The Pit by combining for 57 points. Danridge had a career-high 29 points. He also had five assists and three steals. Toppert had 12 points and two assists with no turnovers.
Roman Martinez had a typical Martinez line: 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists, no turnovers, three steals.
"Daniel has had two games against Luke (Nevill) and his numbers head-to-head in both games have been better," said Alford. "Daniel is a tremendous player."
Faris' chore most of the night was to hammer, pester and buzz around Nevill and keep the 7-foot-2 Ute from dominating the paint. Nevill finished with 16 points, five rebounds and five turnovers. He had four points and one rebound in the second half.
Faris beat Nevill in another important category, too. Faris had one fewer foul and when Nevill fouled out with 3:41 to play, the Lobo senior was still on the court contributing.
"Daniel is just dominating inside," said Toppert. "Nevill is the guy who makes them go and Daniel fouled him out. He does so much for us."
Danridge also elevated his game for his final regular-season game in The Pit. The 6-5 wing scored on an array of drives and also knocked down 13-of-16 free throws.
"Tony has been tremendous," said Alford. "You look at his numbers and he has put up MVP (MWC) numbers. I don't know of anybody in our league who has put up better numbers. Who has been harder to guard. And who does it defensively, too."
Two keys for the Lobos in this win was winning the turnover battle 18-7 and the offensive rebound battle 13-1. Those possession were important because the Lobos needed to get up a few more shots than the hot-shooting Utes, who ended the game shooting 56.4 percent overall and 57.1 percent from 3-point range. UNM was 42.1 percent and 30.8 percent.
"They shoot the ball extremely well, but I thought we were disruptive," said Alford. "It was fun. It was college basketball. I told my boss (UNM AD Paul Krebs), this is the way the Pittsburgh Steelers do it."
One of the more intense moments in the game came at the 15:25 mark of the first half when Utah coach Jim Boylen charged to the half-court line yelling for a timeout. Alford objected to Boylen's theatrics and also went to half court to voice his opinion. The two coaches exchanged a few words.
"There's nothing personal," said Boylen. "That shouldn't be the focus. We're just both trying to win ball games and build a program."
Said Alford: "We're fine. He's competitive. I'm competitive. We're all trying to win a league championship. It was just two coaches acting crazy."
The magnitude of the game brought a lot of Lobo emotions to the surface. When Faris got Nevill to throw an elbow to pick up a fourth foul, Faris danced from one end of The Pit to the other followed by a cascade of howls from 18,018. Faris howled even louder when Nevill backed into Faris drawing foul No. 5.
"I was relieved," Faris said of Nevill fouling out. "I was tired of getting his elbows in my face."
At the game's conclusion, Faris, Toppert and Danridge stood by their parents on the Bob King Floor as The Pit washed them with thankful cheers. Faris was fighting back tears and mopping his face with a white towel.
"This is one of the best places to play in America," he said. "I'm going to miss this place."
The Lobos led 36-34 at the half and pushed that gap to 43-39 at 16:02 when Danridge drove the baseline and flipped in a left-handed reverse. At the 15:25 mark, Utah's Boylen and Alford got into their mild exchange of words.
"Coach knows how to motivate us," said Faris. "He's just as much of a competitor as anyone on the court."
The Utes came out of the break and hit a trey to make it 45-42. At the 14:25 media timeout, it was still 45-42. Martinez hit a trey to put the Lobos up 48-42. Utah got two free throws from Nevill and Tyler Kepkay made one to pull Utah to 48-45. Nevill scored underneath to make it 48-47 and Alford called a timeout at 12:37.
The Lobos then got on a little run. Martinez dribbled off a screen and popped: 50-47. Utah turned it over and Danridge scored in transition and the UNM senior then pushed UNM up 55-47 on a drive plus a foul shot.
"Tony is the best player in the league," said Faris.
Nevill picked up his third foul at 9:25 fouling Toppert on a drive. Toppert made one and UNM was up 56-47. Utah called a timeout at 9:18, down nine points in a very loud and hostile Pit.
Utah came out of the break and UNM's Faris produced a steal on a pass inside to Nevill. Faris came back to dip under Nevill for a layup: 58-47. Utah missed a trey and Danridge hit a 10-foot fade: 60-47. The Pit went from nuts to nuttier and Utah called another timeout. This time down by 13 with 8:03 to go.
The Utes came out of their huddle to a wall of noise and a determined pack of Lobos.
"It was fun. It was college basketball. I told my boss (UNM AD Paul Krebs), this is the way the Pittsburgh Steelers do it."
Lobo coach Steve Alford on wild 77-71 win over Utah Utes
Faris came down on defense and wedged himself close and tight onto Nevill, who powered back into the fiery Lobo. Faris ended up on the floor. "Daniel fights like crazy," said Alford.
Nevill ended up on the Utah bench blanketed with five fouls. The Utes were down 64-53 at the 3:41 break with their star and leading scorer on the bench. "If you are playing for a conference title, it has to be hard and physical," said Faris.
The Utes got close enough in the final minutes to make those seconds tense. Utah closed to 66-61 at 2:02 before Martinez made a Ute-killing play. He missed a trey from the baseline, but followed his shot and got fouled on the put back.
Martinez made one to push UNM to 67-61. Utah missed on their end and Alford called a timeout at 1:25. "Ro is the catalyst for doing all the little things for us," said Alford.
UNM's Dairese Gary got fouled on a drive at 1:07 and made two free ones to hand UNM a 69-61 lead. The Lobos worked the clock and the free throw line to the 77-71 final.
It was a Pit game from before the opening tip. The Pit in rare and raw form, elevating its voice early in an effort to raise its Lobos past the Utes.
The Lobos fed on the energy early, too. Martinez dribbled off a screen and popped in a 15-footer. Danridge got open behind the Ute defense and accepted a sweet lob pass from Gary that ended in a dunk and a Pit roar.
It was a roar quieted by a 6-0 Utah run that bumped the visitors from Salt Lake City up 6-4. Utah expanded that lead to 11-6 before Danridge scored off a big hop and added a free throw to make it 11-9.
"Coach knows how to motivate us. He's just as much of a competitor as anyone on the court."
Martinez pushed UNM up 20-17 when Jonathan Wills turned down an open look at a trey to find his teammate open for a layup. Utah tied it with a trey, 20-all. The Utes then used a layup by Nevill followed by a 3-pointer by Shaun Green to form a 28-22 lead at 5:54 that had Alford calling for a time.
Faris cut Utah's lead to 30-25 hitting an open 16-footer over Nevill. The Utes then found Nevill alone under the basket. Danridge got a hand on Nevill's head, but the big Ute powered up for a dunk and got the call at 2:55. He missed the free one and the score stayed at 32-25.
Faris shot another jumper over Nevill to close UNM to 32-27. Nevill missed an easy one inside and Toppert rolled off a screen to launch from 3-point range: 32-30. Utah got a single free shot and Martinez rolled off a screen and matched Toppert's trey: 33-33.
Martinez got a steal at the other end, which led to Danridge shooting a one-and-one. The senior popped in one and UNM was up 34-33. Utah came down and fed Nevill inside and he was hammered by A.J. Hardeman. The Ute made one and the teams were locked at 34-34.
The Lobos went for the final shot of the half. Toppert missed a long trey, but Faris was there with a follow shot off the backboard. UNM led 36-34 at the break.
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