March 16, 2008
The University of New Mexico (24-8) returns to the postseason for the 28th time when it visits the Cal Bears (16-15) in the first round of the 2008 MasterCard NIT.
Tipoff is 9 p.m. Mountain Time from Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. The game will be televised by ESPN2. Live audio is available via All Access at golobos.com.
The Lobos, 8-2 in their last 10 games, were the No. 3 seed in last week's Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. UNM fell to No. 6 seed Utah 82-80 in overtime.
Cal beat Washington 84-81 in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles, before falling to top seed UCLA 88-66 in the quarterfinals. The Bears won the 1999 NIT title.
Picked to finish 4th in the MWC preseason poll, the Lobos produced their most league wins (11-5) in nine years as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The 11 conference victories are the most by UNM in 10 years, since getting 11 in the Western Athletic Conference in 1998.
New Mexico and Air Force were the only two teams in the MWC to finish higher that what was predicted in the preseason poll. The poll said 4th for UNM, but it finished 3rd. Air Force was 5th after the poll said 8th.
Head coach Steve Alford needs one win to match the most wins in his NCAA Div. I coaching career. His 2005-06 Iowa team went 25-9.
UNM VS. CAL - The Bears have a 3-1 lead in the series:
Dec. 22, 1969 Cal 83, New Mexico 69 at Berkeley
Dec. 5, 1970 New Mexico 82, Cal 62 at Albuquerque
Nov. 28, 2001 Cal 71. New Mexico 62 at Berkeley
Nov. 23, 2002 Cal 76, New Mexico 68 at Albuquerque
NEW MEXICO IN POSTSEASON - This is the 28th postseason appearance - 11 NCAA and 17 NIT - all have come in the past 45 seasons, since 1963-64.
LOBOS IN THE NIT - New Mexico has been in the NIT 16 previous times, including seven straight appearances between 1984-90. UNM has a 16-17 record.
The Lobos' top two showings came in 1964 when they finished second to Bradley and fourth place in 1990. The Lobos came within an eyelash of advancing to New York in 1988, '89, '92 and 2001, losing in the quarterfinals.
The last appearance was 2002 when the Lobos lost at Minnesota in the first round, 96-62.
New Mexico has played 19 NIT games in The Pit where it is 13-6 and has won 8 straight games. The last loss was to St. Louis in the 1989 quarterfinals.
The Lobos have never won a true road game in the NIT, having lost all five contests. The last win in the NIT away from Albuquerque was a neutral-court victory over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in 1967.
UNM SEASON SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL - What has happened in the past 4-plus months has been difficult for even the most optimistic Lobo fan to imagine. But first, a look back:
New head coach Steve Alford inherited four returning starters from a somewhat unpredictable bunch that finished 15-17 in 2006-07, just the program's 2nd losing season in the past 24 years. Picked to finish 5th in the MWC, New Mexico was 4-12 in the Mountain West, tying TCU for last place. The Lobos lost 12 conference games for the first time since 1959, and were 2-12 away from The Pit, 1-10 in true road games.
On Oct. 4, 2007, one of the team's returning starters - senior wing Tony Danridge - broke his leg and would miss the 2007-08 season. The steady Danridge was a three-year starter who averaged 12.5 points as a junior and was expected to be a tremendous complement to J.R. Giddens on the perimeter.
Now, to the present. With essentially the same players as last year, except for starting freshman point guard Dairese Gary, Alford's first Lobo team enters the NIT with a 24-8 record, having tied the school mark for wins during the regular season and a 9-win improvement from a year ago. Picked to finish 4th in the MWC, the Lobos went from worst to 3rd by closing the conference season with 8 wins in 9 games. UNM has won 8 road games, tying a program record and equaling the total for the past five seasons (8-43) combined.
The past 23 games, only one starter from last year - Giddens - has been in the starting lineup. Giddens has been unworldly and the consummate teammate in his final collegiate season. Gary has been a steadying influence at the point. Heady sophomore Roman Martinez has probably made more non-box score plays than anyone on the team. Junior post Daniel Faris has stepped up when UNM has needed him the most. Two returning starters - senior guards Darren Prentice and Jamaal Smith along with 3-pointer marksman Chad Toppert - average nearly 27 points off the bench.
Even Alford has been mildly shocked at the response from his team and the slightly unexpected results from a season that has been a wonderful ride.
Alford is 332-191 (63%) into his 17th season. His teams have qualified for postseason play 11 times, produced 13 winning seasons and reached 20 wins on nine occasions.
Alford is facing Cal for the first time in his career. He is in the postseason NIT for the 5th time where he has a 2-4 record.
In eight seasons at Iowa, Alford compiled a 152-106 record with a school-record seven consecutive winning seasons, and six postseason appearances. The Hawkeyes won two Big Ten Conference tournament titles (2001 and `06). Iowa was 17-14 in 2006-07. It was 9-7 in the Big Ten, tied with NCAA teams Illinois and Purdue for fourth place.
Prior to Iowa, Alford posted a 78-29 record in four seasons (1992-95) at NCAA Division III Manchester (Ind.) College and a four-year (1996-99) record of 78-48 at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State). The Bears defeated Wisconsin and Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16 of the 1999 NCAA Tournament before losing to top-ranked Duke in the regional semifinals. In 1997 Alford led the Bears to a 24-9 record (second in the Missouri Valley Conference) and a trip to the National Invitation Tournament.
In somewhat of a rarity, Alford has never been anything but a head coach at the collegiate level. His first position came at Manchester at the age of 27.
RECORD-SETTING SEASON FOR ALFORD - Steve Alford has set a school record for most wins by a New Mexico head coach in his rookie season. Dave Bliss was 22-11 in 1988-89. The most wins by an Alford-coached team at the NCAA Div. I level is 25 at Iowa in 2005-06. His 1994-95 Manchester (Ind.) squad went 31-1 in NCAA Div. III.
UNM TIES RECORD FOR REGULAR-SEASON VICTORIES - The 24 victories ties for the most by a New Mexico team during the regular season. Norm Ellenberger's 1977-78 Lobos were 24-3 heading into the NCAA Tournament while Dave Bliss' 1995-96 team was 24-4 going into the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
LOBOS TIE RECORD FOR ROAD GAME WINS - After going 8-43 in true road games - played on the opponents' home floor - the past five seasons (2003-07), UNM is 8-5 this year, which ties a school record set three previous times: 8-4 in 1972-73, 8-2 in 1977-78 and 8-3 in 1995-96.
The MWC record for road wins is eight as well set by UNLV in 2006-07 and Air Force in 2003-04, and equaled by BYU this season.
UNM finished the season with 4 straight conference road games for the first time since a 5-game run in 1998.
HISTORIC IMPROVEMENT BEING MADE- New Mexico is currently a +9 in wins from last year. That figure ranks as the 5th-biggest improvement in school history. It took New Mexico only 20 games to surpass last year's victory total (15-17) and UNM nearly tripled last year's wins in conference play (4-12).
The Lobos were a +7 in conference games in 2007-08, which is the 2nd-greatest jump of all-time and an argument could be made it's the best ever.
During World War II - when schedules were abbreviated - UNM fashioned a 3-0 record in the Border Conference in 1944 with all three wins coming against Texas Tech. The Lobos improved to 12-0 in 1945 for an improvement of +9.
LOBO BULLET NOTES
Through games of Sunday, March 16, the Lobos were 1st in the nation in 3-point accuracy at 42.51%...IUPUI is 2nd at 42.0%
The Lobos have had 10 or fewer turnovers 16 times this year, and it happened 11 times in MWC games...UNM averaged just 10.5 turnovers in MWC play, 8.9 in the last 9 games, and it finished 1st in the conference with a turnover margin of +5.6
In all games, the Lobos lead the MWC in scoring (74.4 ppg), scoring margin (+12.3), 3-point FGs (8.32 pg) and 3-point percentage (42.6%)...UNM's 3-point shooting would be the 2nd-best in school history were it to hold up for the entire season
In MWC games only, New Mexico led the league in scoring (72.9 ppg), scoring margin (+9.4), 3-point FGs made (8.5), 3-point FG pct. (43.0%), turnover margin (+5.63) and assist/turnover ratio (1.54)
Opponents are shooting just 40.8% from the floor against UNM...were it to stand for the rest of the season, that percentage would rank as the 4th-lowest by a Lobo team in the past 43 years
More defense: opponents are averaging 62,5 points a game, a figure that would be the lowest since the 1983-84 squad allowed 59.2 ppg
New Mexico has set a school record by playing 5 overtime games in a season...UNM is 3-2
The Lobos' record by month: 7-0 in November; 5-2 in December; 4-3 in January; 6-2 in February and 2-1 in March
UNM has won 20 games in a season for the 21st time...all have occurred since the 1963-64 season...Steve Alford has his 9th 20-win campaign in 16 full seasons as a head coach
New Mexico is 16-2 at home this year, winning by an average margin of 20.2 points...the blemishes were a 72-67 loss to San Diego State, a game the Lobos led 24-10 in the first half and 33-25 at halftime, and 70-69 in overtime to BYU
Although UNM shot just 63.4% from the FT line in conference games, it made 81% of its charities (63-78) in crunch time (the last 3 minutes and in OT) in 16 MWC games
New Mexico is 21-0 this season when holding opponents to less than 70 points and 20- when leading at halftime
UNM has won 21 straight games when holding opponents to less than 60 points