March 12, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The New Mexico Lobos' magical streak might have ended Friday in the Las Vegas Thomas & Mack Center, but the Lobos' magical season marches on. And what a perfect time to roll out another streak -- the NCAA Tournament.
The Lobos' bid for the 2010 Mountain West Tournament title hit a wall called Billy White and the San Diego State Aztecs, and although the Lobos cracked that wall more than a few times, it refused to crumble. The Aztecs, playing like a team on the brink of NCAA heartbreak, ended UNM's regular season with a dramatic 72-69 semifinal win.
The UNLV Rebels used their home court to spank the Brigham Young Cougars 70-66 and will meet the Aztecs Saturday in the tourney's title game.
The Lobos' 15-game win streak is over, but there are still some exciting times and questions ahead for the 29-4 Lobos, who are holding an NCAA Selection Sunday Pit Party.
"We know we're in the tournament, so it`s really a celebration of a great year," said Lobo coach Steve Alford of Sunday`s Pit Party. "We're going to get a very good seed, maybe the highest seed in league history. So there's a lot that's going to happen Sunday."
Sunday's Pit Party will be a good way to wash away some of the hurt that hit the Lobos and their mob of fans, who came to Vegas in record-setting numbers. Simply put: these Lobos don't like to lose. That's one of the reason they ran to the MWC regular-season title by stringing out 14 consecutive league wins. UNM made the streak 15 straight with a tourney win over Air Force.
A desperate band of Aztecs had to shoot 51.9 percent from the floor, 62.5 percent from 3-point range, and get 28 points from White in order to beat these gutsy Lobos.
"He played like a man," UNM`s Dairese Gary said of White. "That's the only thing you can say. He made some great plays. He played strong. He finished strong."
Still, UNM had a shot at victory in the closing seconds. UNM had just taken over the ball by holding the Aztecs to a shot-clock violation. UNM was looking into the teeth of an Aztec full-court press with seven seconds to play and down 70-69.
Gary broke the press and was powering through the lane when the ball was momentarily tapped away from him. He pulled it back and threw up an off-balance, too-hard shot as he flew by the backboard. The Aztecs gathered in the rebound and the win. SDSU's Leonard Kawhi added two free throws with :07 seconds to play.
"He made a good run," SDSU`s D.J. Gay said of Gary`s shot. "He got a shot off, and had an opportunity to win the game for them. My hat goes off to him for his competitiveness. He's a great player."
Gary led UNM with 17 points. Darington Hobson had 15, A.J. Hardeman muscled for 12 points and Roman Martinez chipped in 11 points. Hardeman led UNM on the boards with nine and Hobson pulled down seven.
The Aztecs won the board battle 29 to 27. SDSU went 10-of-16 from behind the line to 7-of-21 for the Lobos. UNM was 14-of-17 from the free-throw line to 8-of-9 for the Aztecs.
"We lost this game, but San Diego State beat us," said Alford. "We didn't lose it ourselves. This was a hard-fought, very aggressive, physical game. We just ran into a very good team that happened to play very well and make a few more shots than we did."
The Aztecs had two huge plays down the stretch that helped push them to the win. White scored on a breakaway and added a free throw to push SDSU up 67-64. Martinez cut that gap to 67-66 hitting two of three free throws after getting fouled on a baseline trey.
Gay put the Aztecs up 70-66 rolling off a screen and hammering in a long trey. The Lobos gave themselves a chance when Hobson drove the lane and kicked off to Gary in the corner. The junior scored to make it 70-69.
Then SDSU lost the ball on the shot-clock violation leading to Gary's mad dash down the court.
"We've been on a great run," said Alford. "These guys have been warriors through this whole run. They were warriors tonight. I thought both teams played extremely hard. They were able to make one or two more plays than what we were able to make."
Second Half -- SDSU 34, Lobos 30
The Lobos came out up a point and went into the first media break up a point, 48-47. The teams took turns trading punches and buckets. White continued to be a problem for the Lobos inside, but UNM's Hardeman responded with a dunk and a follow of a Hobson miss. That Hardeman score pulled UNM out of a 47-46 deficit and into the 48-47 lead at 14:41.
The counter punching continued. A Hardeman tip of another Hobson miss put UNM up 50-47. Chase Tapley hit a three for the Aztecs: 50-all. Hardeman got another tip inside: 52-50 UNM. Aztec Brian Carlwell banged a rock off the glass and it rattled in: 52-all.
Hobson then threw in a long trey over a double team and UNM had a 55-52 lead. SDSU scored inside and it was 55-54 at the 9:42 break.
The Aztecs then took advantage of a small UNM mistake to jump to a 60-55 lead. UNM's Brown took a shot probably out of his range. Tapley knocked down a trey for SDSU: 57-55. UNM missed another long bomb and Leonard came down to hit a trey out of transition. The Aztecs were up 60-55 and UNM called time with 8:13 to play.
The Lobos then turned it over to the Aztec press and White got a dunk: 62-55. That scored carried into the media break at 7:19. UNM cut into that gap with a Martinez trey: 62-58. SDSU had thrown up a couple of bad shots and the Aztecs called time with 5:42 to go.
Hobson scored inside for UNM to pull the Lobos to 62-60. The Aztecs turned it over on the other end and the 62-60 score carried into the final media break at 3:48.
Hobson tied the game at 62-all on a drive and a reverse layup. Leonard forced a shot at the other end. UNM then drifted up 64-62 on a Hardeman follow of a Gary miss. UNM was on a 9-0 run.
White knotted the score at 64-all scoring inside. Martinez took a quick trey at the other end, which led to White on a breakaway. Gary fouled the big Aztez hard, but White pushed the shot off the glass and in. He hit the free throw and SDSU was up 67-64.
Martinez got fouled on the baseline shooting at trey at 1:38. He made two of three and it was 67-66. SDSU worked the shot clock down and got a long trey from Gay: 70-66. UNM called time with 57.8 to play.
UNM worked the clock a bit before Hobson drove and kicked off to Gary in front of the UNM bench. He banged in a trey and it was 70-69. SDSU missed, but also had a shot-clock violation.
The Lobos got a good look. Gary broke the Aztec press, but the ball was tipped away from him momentarily. He pulled it back but threw up an off-balance shot and he flew by the backboard. That was it. UNM's bid at a 30-game win season would have to wait for the NCAA playoffs.
First Half -- Lobos 39, SDSU 38
The Lobos carved a good half out of a bad start. The Aztecs came out looking like a team that knew it had to beat the Lobos in order to have a shot at a NCAA at-large bid. They hit the Lobos in the chin early, jumping up 14-2 paced by two treys by Leonard, a monster dunk by Thomas, and another trey by White. UNM's lone bucket was a follow by McDonald on a Hobson miss.
Gary got fired up for the Lobos over the next few minutes, got UNM into transition, and UNM cut the Aztecs' lead to 18-11. At the 11:55 media break, the Aztecs were up 22-14, with yet another trey and another Thomas dunk.
Martinez cut the Aztecs' lead to 22-17, hitting a trey from the left wing. Brown then went to work inside. He hit two free throws and completed a 3-point play from the line to pull UNM to 26-24. UNM formed a 26-all tie with a Hardman score inside. At the 7:49 break, a SDSU trey by Chase Tapley had the Aztecs up 29-26.
The Aztecs did a good job of keeping the lead, but couldn't extend it. Gary scored on a layup set up by a Hobson steal. He was fouled and added the free shot to make it 34-33 in favor of SDSU. White converted on a post spin to push the Aztecs up 36-33. At a break at 2:17, SDSU was up 38-37.
The Lobos grabbed their first lead of the half when Gary drove, got cut off, but threw up something that was half jump shot and half jump hook. It rolled in for his 14th point of the half and UNM carried that 39-38 score into the midway break.
The Aztecs shot 56 percent in the first half, including a 5-of-8 effort from behind the line. UNM got seven big points from Brown. The Lobos went 12 of 12 from the free-throw line and the Aztecs went 5 of 6. White had 17 points for the Aztecs and Leonard had eight points and six boards. SDSU was up on the board count 16 to 10. Brown, with three boards, was the only Lobo with more than two rebounds in the half.