LOBO FLASHBACKS: Lobo Flashbacks is a summer feature of GoLobo.com looking back on special teams, players, games or moments from the 2013-14 University of New Mexico athletic season.
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The goal for Lobo Coach Craig Neal wasn’t exactly to become New Mexico’s winningest first-year men’s basketball coach ever. That accomplishment was more a byproduct of what Neal had in mind for his 2014 Lobos.
They did that a lot – 27 times to be exact and because of all those wins the Lobos reached a few goals that were important to Neal in his first season in The Pit's hot seat. They won a Mountain West Championship. They advanced to NCAA play.
“My main concern since I got the job was to get them back to the (NCAA) tournament,” said Neal.
The Lobos missed their first shot at a MW title as San Diego State slipped onto the regular-season throne despite UNM posting the program's most regular-season MW wins with 15. The title came in dominate fashion at the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.
That winning hand in Vegas marked the first time a Mountain West team has ever won the postseason tournament in three consecutive seasons.
Neal’s Lobos were well prepared to make a run in Vegas. They battled a tough pre-MW slate and had won seven Mountain West road games heading to the supposedly neutral floor in UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. The Lobos also had three All-MW players in their starting lineup: Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow, the league’s leading scorer.
They were good to go. They also were too good for the rest of the field in Vegas.
The Lobos’ dash to the 2014 MW Tournament throne went through Fresno State, Boise State and San Diego State. The 64-58 win over SDSU in the title game gave UNM a 2-1 mark over an exceptional Aztecs’ team that had gone 31-5 with two losses to Arizona.
Neal’s 27 wins helped him become a finalist for two national coaching awards. The 27 wins tied Neal for the 12th spot in NCAA history for wins by a first-year Division I coach.