April 21, 2005
It was a breakout season for the University of New Mexico in 2004-05 as it won the Mountain West Conference Tournament to culminate a sparkling nine-game winning streak and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. The Lobos, picked to finish fourth in the MWC preseason poll, fell to 23rd-ranked Villanova 55-47 in the first round of the Syracuse Regional.
New Mexico finished 26-7 on the year, the second-highest win total in school history and a 12-win improvement from 2003-04. It's also two more victories than the previous two seasons combined as UNM went 24-32 in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
Only national champion North Carolina and Texas A&M progressed by a greater margin that UNM did in 2004-05. The Tar Heels and Aggies each constructed 14 more wins than last year. The Lobos closed the season by winning 9 of 10 and 12 of 14, including their first conference tournament title since 1996.
The No. 2 seed in the MWC Tournament in Denver, UNM ran past BYU, San Diego State and 15th-ranked Utah to claim the league's automatic bid to the Big Dance.
It was the first NCAA appearance for UNM's Ritchie McKay, either as a player, assistant coach or head coach. He has completed nine seasons overall as a head coach, including the past three years at New Mexico. McKay did have a 2-1 record in the 1999 NIT while at Colorado State. His previous eight teams had never won more than 19 games in a season.
After starting the conference season 1-3, the Lobos finished 10-4 in the MWC, placing second behind nationally-ranked Utah. The 10 wins came on the heels of four straight losing records in conference play and were the most since 11 victories in the Western Athletic Conference in 1998.
The Lobos' nine-game winning streak began against Air Force on Feb. 14 when the quintet of David Chiotti, Troy DeVries, Danny Granger, Alfred Neale and Mark Walters started together for the first time. The nine-game skein is the longest for a Ritchie McKay-coached team and the Lobos' best run since taking nine straight in 2000-01.
NEW MEXICO'S POSTSEASON HISTORY: 27 APPEARANCES IN THE PAST 42 YEARS -
After a three-year postseason void between 2002-04, UNM made its 27th appearance since its inaugural showing in 1964 when it played in the NIT championship game in New York City.
The Lobos are now 6-12 in 11 NCAA Tournament showings. They have appeared in the NIT 16 times, posting a 16-17 record. UNM participated in the NIT from 2000-02, advancing to the second round in 2000 and the quarterfinals in 2001.
New Mexico first danced in the NCAAs in 1968 under head coach Bob King. The Lobos advanced twice under Norm Ellenberger in 1974 and `78. UNM's best representation came in the 1990s with Dave Bliss. New Mexico qualified seven times in nine years between 1991-99, falling in the second round each season between 1996-99.
UNM NITTY GRITTY
A 12-win improvement from last year and 16 games better than two years ago
The 26 wins are the 2nd-most in school history, trailing only 1995-96 (28-5)
10 conference wins for the first time in seven years, since the 1997-98 squad finished 11-5 in the Mountain Division of the Western Athletic Conference
Had a 9-game winning streak between Feb. 14-March 12
26-4 record with Danny Granger, 0-3 when he was out with an injury
16-2 with Danny Granger since Dec. 22
Granger was named a 3rd team All-American by Basketball Times, MWC Player of the Year by CollegeInsider.com and MVP of the MWC Tournament
8-6 record away from The Pit, 8-3 with Danny Granger
Won 5 straight games away from Albuquerque for the first time since 1977-78
All five Lobo starters averaged in double figures
UNM was 3-4 in MWC road games, 3-1 with Danny Granger
Won consecutive MWC road games for the first time in five years, since winning three straight (at San Diego State, Air Force and BYU) in 1999-2000
18-1 in The Pit - including nine straight wins since Dec. 28 - the only loss being dealt by nationally-ranked Wake Forest...18 home wins are the most since the 1998-99 team finished 19-1...UNM has also captured 30 of its past 33 home games
HEAD COACH Ritchie McKay - Ritchie McKay has completed three seasons as the man in charge of Lobo hoops and his ninth year as a collegiate head coach. He was named UNM's 18th head coach on March 28, 2002.
The 26-7 record in 2004-05 is easily McKay's best season, surpassing a 19-11 ledger at Colorado State in 1998-99.
McKay had previous two-year stops at Portland State (1996-98), Colorado State (1998-2000) and Oregon State (2000-02). He has a career record of 133-128, 50-39 at New Mexico.
While at UNM, McKay is 42-12 at home, 31-16 in non-conference games, 26-7 in non-league games at The Pit and 5-9 in road/neutral games. He is 19-23 in MWC games, 16-5 at home and 3-18 on the road.
While at Mountain West Conference member Colorado State, McKay led the Rams to the NIT in 1999. McKay is the son of the late Joe McKay, who was a three-year letterman at guard for the Lobos from 1961-63.
LOBOS AMONG NATION'S MOST IMPROVED TEAMS - Among the 330 NCAA Div. I men's basketball teams, the University of New Mexico ranked in a tie for 3rd place in the category of "Most Improved Team" during the 2004-05 season. The list includes records from 2003-04 and 2004-05:
+14 North Carolina 19-11 to 33-4
+14 Texas A&M 7-21 to 21-10
+12 New Mexico 14-14 to 26-7
+12 U. of San Diego4-26 to 16-13; Lobos slated to play at USD in 2005-06
+12 Holy Cross 13-15 to 25-7
+11 Ohio U. 10-20 to 21-11
+11 Old Dominion 17-12 to 28-6
+11 Winthrop 16-12 to 27-6
3rd team All-American, Basketball Times
MWC Player of the Year, Collegeinsider.com
MVP of MWC Tournament
1st team all-MWC for second straight year
1st team all-district, U.S. Basketball Writers
1st team all-district, National Association of Basketball Coaches
3rd team all-MWC
3rd team all-MWC
Honorable mention all-MWC
MWC All-Tournament Team
Honorable mention all-MWC
NEW MEXICO VS. RANKED TEAMS - The record was 2-2. New Mexico beat Utah twice, 65-54 in The Pit when the Utes were No. 13, and 60-56 in the MWC Tournament final when they were 15th. UNM lost to 5th-ranked Wake Forest at home (81-64) and fell to No. 23 Villanova (55-47) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
DOUBLE YOUR FUN - Both the New Mexico men's and women's teams captured conference tournament titles in Denver, the first time that's happened in school history. The Lobo women (26-5) won their third straight conference tournament crown and made their fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The only other time that both the men and women played in the NCAA Tournament in the same year was 1998.
A BOWL AND TWO BIDS - New Mexico is one of 11 schools to have its football team play in a bowl game and also have both its men's and women's basketball teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament during the 2004-05 academic season. The others were Boston College, Connecticut, Iowa State, LSU, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Utah.
After holding 12th-seeed New Mexico to just 11 points in the first half and leading by as much as 24, Villanova almost gave the game away. The Wildcats (23-7) made just three field goals in the second half, and Allan Ray and Curtis Sumpter finished a combined 2-for-22. Villanova also had 20 turnovers, 12 in the second half.
The Lobos (26-7) made a furious rally against Villanova, pulling within 52-47 with 29 seconds left. But they couldn't overcome their dismal start. Danny Granger led New Mexico with 15 points and Mark Walters had 14 - all in the second half.
The victory was the 11th in the last 13 games for Villanova. New Mexico had a nine-game winning streak snapped.
Villanova looked as if it was on its way to a rout early, stifling the Lobos in the first half. Trapping and pressing with a fury, the Wildcats held New Mexico - one of the nation's better offensive teams - to 11 points on 18 percent shooting. Walters, Alfred Neale and Troy DeVries - all of whom average in double figures - were scoreless in the first 20 minutes as the Wildcats raced out to a 34-11 lead.
But the Lobos finally found their groove in the second half. After Randy Foye made a pair of free throws to give Villanova a 42-23 lead with 8:45 left, New Mexico responded with a 10-0 run that got them within double figures for the first time since midway through the first half.
After Will Sheridan made a pair of free throws, Neale hit a 3-pointer to cut Villanova's lead to 44-36.
Lowry was fouled by Walters with 1:44 left, but missed both shots. But Sumpter grabbed the rebound and Lowry was fouled again. This time he didn't miss. He went 4-for-4 from the line over the next 10 seconds, pushing Villanova's lead back to 52-42.
Another 3-pointer by Neale pulled New Mexico within 52-45, and Walters' followed with a pair of free throws with 29 seconds left to make it 52-47. But after Ray made a free throw, Lowry stole the ball on the inbounds to seal the victory.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2005-06 - Head coach Ritchie McKay will say so long to six lettermen, including three senior starters in shooting guard Troy DeVries, power forward Danny Granger and small forward Alfred Neale. Three underclassmen - sophomore Ryan Wall, redshirt freshman Sean Phaler and true freshman Bombale Osby - will leave UNM at the end of the spring semester.
The trio of DeVries (11.0 ppg), Granger (18.8 ppg) and Neale (10.3) combined to average 40.1 points a game. Additionally, they were the top 3-pointer shooters on the team, making 43% (197-of-455) of the attempts between them. Granger also led the squad in rebounding (8.9 rpg), steals (63) and blocks (60).
Returning are two starters who will be seniors next season: post David Chiotti (10.4 ppg) and guard Mark Walters (10.5 ppg). Six additional lettermen are also expected back in 2005-06, including Kris Collins, who started at point guard 18 of the first 19 games. Collins broke his foot on Jan. 26 and missed the final 14 games.
With an all-time record of 1,232-967, UNM's 2,200nd game will be the 2005-06 season opener.
CHIOTTI/WALTERS COULD JOIN 1,000-POINT CLUB - Seniors-to-be David Chiotti and Mark Walters have a good shot at becoming the 23rd and 24th Lobos to score 1,000 career points. After racking up 342 points this season, Chiotti has 790 in his 88-game career. Walters has 735 points after three seasons (86 games), following a 348-point output in 2004-05.
Both could also gain entrance to a more exclusive club, that of 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career. Chiotti needs 76 boards for 500 while Walters is 152 caroms shy. The last Lobo to do so was Lamont Long during the 1998-99 season.
THE NEW LOBOS - The University of New Mexico inked four during the November signing period. They are Joel Box (F, 6-8, 250) from Rockford, Ill., and John Wood Community College in Quincy, Ill., Daniel Faris (C, 6-9, 225) from Albuquerque Eldorado High School, Justin Holt (G/F, 6-7, 205) from Tacoma, Wash., and Indian Hills (Iowa) CC and Anthony Teague (G, 6-5, 190) from Cleveland, Ohio, and Dodge City (Kan.) CC.
Signing earlier this month was Ryan Kersten, a 6-1 guard from Modbury Heights, South Australia, who is attending the Australian Institute of Sport. He will be a freshman next year.
UTAH/MWC TOURNAMENT RECAP - The Lobos made their invitation to the NCAAs a formality, getting 28 points, 11 rebounds and four straight clutch free throws from Danny Granger in a 60-56 victory over No. 15 Utah in the Mountain West Conference championship game.
Playing as though their season was at stake the second-seeded Lobos jumped on Andrew Bogut and the top-seeded Utes early and kept them an arm's distance away most of the way.
And when Bogut (19 points, 16 rebounds) triggered a 9-2 run that gave the Utes a 49-48 lead with 3:35 left - their first since midway through the first half - New Mexico responded. Alfred Neale slammed home a miss for a 50-49 lead. David Chiotti made a move that felled Bogut and led to an easy layup.
After two Utah free throws made it 52-51, Granger made two huge baskets, forcing a shot over a defender under the basket for one score, then dribbling to the baseline and shaking loose from defender Marc Jackson for an open 15 footer that he buried for a 56-51 lead. Bogut responded with a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left, but Granger countered by sinking four free throws down the stretch to keep it a two-possession game.
The win capped off a day that began when New Mexico beat Utah for the women's championship. For the men, it was the ninth straight win and 12th in the last 13. Two of those wins came against Utah, the league's regular-season champ.
Granger scored 18 of his points in the first half and well outplayed Bogut, who was "held" to just 19 points by a defense that fronted him with Chiotti, then brought help from the back-side forward.
Despite that success, the Lobos couldn't build their lead into double digits and when the Utes shut down Granger through most of the second half, it was clear this one would come down to the wire. It did - but it was Granger, not Bogut, who wound up holding the trophy and being named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.