Nov. 30, 2008
What: Cancun Challenge at Moon Palace Resort, Mexico
Sunday: Drake 68, Lobos 62
Up Next: Lobos vs. Southern Miss, 4 p.m., Saturday, The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
CANCUN, Mexico -- In tossing out responsibility for his Lobos returning from Cancun winless, UNM coach Steve Alford placed the heavy load on the backs of Lobos who have been through more than a few D-I wars: the Lobo coaching staff, the Lobo upperclassmen.
"We just have to try and find the right buttons as coaches because we're obviously not doing that," said Alford following the University of New Mexico's 68-62 loss Sunday night to Drake in the consolation game of the Cancun Challenge.
"I'm not about blaming players or putting fault on players, but at the same token I'm not going to pump up guys, who in my opinion, have to do more for us. Daniel (Faris) falls under that category just like Tony (Danridge). They are seniors. They have to do more for us. That's not putting the blame on them. That's not hammering them. That's the way it is."
The University of New Mexico upperclassmen had some good stats, but they also could have done better in a few statistical categories. Faris was active under the glass and scored 14 points, going 5-of-10 from the floor. However, the 6-foot-9 senior went 4-of-9 from the free-throw line and had only three rebounds.
Danridge's stats were very un-senior like: no field goals, three rebounds and four turnovers. The 6-5 jumping jack did have five assists. "We got to get some of these guys going," said Alford, who saw his Lobos dip to 3-4 on the season. "Tony comes over here (Cancun) and in two games gets one field goal. We're not going to win a lot of games with that kind of production.
"We missed a lot of layups. We're 50 percent (9-of-20) from the line again. We got beat 22 to nine at the free-throw line. You just can't get beat 13 points at the free-throw line. The effort has been great. The intensity has been very good. Somehow we have to get our confidence back."
The Pit often is the medicine needed to return the feel-good feeling to hurting Lobos. However, UNM's next test in The Pit is a tough one when Southern Mississippi visits at 4 p.m. on Saturday. "We're going to need the support of home because Southern Miss, they're a tougher basketball team than we are right now," said Alford.
The Lobos ran to a 15-7 lead over Drake at the 13:00 mark of the first half when Danridge hit two free throws. The fifth-year senior scored only one point the rest of the game and finished going 0-of-3 from the floor.
"There has never been a time in our preparation where we said, 'Don't shoot it, Tony,'" said Alford. "His confidence is shook right now. When kids lose confidence, they have to get that back. You got to get that back on your own."
The Lobos' lead after 15-7 slowly turned into a Drake lead at 16-15. The Bulldogs biggest lead of the half was 23-17. The two teams settled into a 31-all tie at intermission.
The Bulldogs opened the second half going 8-of-11 from the floor and powered to a 16-point lead (64-48) with 5:45 to play. The Lobos put a little passion and desperation into their effort in the closing minutes, but it was too little, too late. Drake used the free-throw line to seal the win. "The whistle obviously went their way," said Alford. "Any time one team makes 22 free throws (22-of-32)to nine for the other, that's a big differential.
"Our team is struggling with mental toughness," he said. "When things go well, we're great. We've kind of been front-runners through seven games. When things go the other way, we're not very good. That's not a trait you want to have."
Faris, who was active and aggressive in the paint, led UNM with 14 points. Alford said he was happy with Faris' effort, but wants the senior to finish the easy shots and convert at the free-throw line.
Junior Roman Martinez had a solid game with 11 points, going 5-of-8 from the floor. Senior Chad Toppert scored 12 points, going 4-of-8 from the 3-point line and from the field. The UNM point guard tandem of Dairese Gary and Nate Garth combined to score eight points.
The Lobos had no players with more than four rebounds and lost the board war 36 to 29. UNM outscored Drake by three field goals, but were outscored by 13 from the line. UNM shot 43.1 percent from the floor and the Bulldogs finished at 42.2 percent. Drake had four players in double figures with 17 points from Brent Heemskerk and 14 boards from Jonathan Cox. The attendance was listed at 201.
Alford said his team returns to The Pit looking for 40 minutes of play, better defense, better board work, better free-throw shooting and better leadership.
"Right now, we really need our upperclassmen to be consistent so, as coaches, you know what you are going to get every night out," said Alford.
The Lobos shot well from behind the arc in the first period, 5-of-8, but went 4-of-14 in the second half. The Lobos cut Drake's lead to 66-62 on a 3-pointer by Toppert with 22 seconds left to play, before Drake iced the game at the line on two free throws by Josh Parker.
Editor's note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner