Feb. 17, 2009
Tuesday: Brigham Young 73, Lobos 62
Saturday: Lobos vs. San Diego State, 1 p.m., The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The status of the Lobos' Saturday afternoon Pit clash with San Diego State really hasn't changed. It simply has gotten more intense, more urgent, more everything. It has all the makings of a Pit Thriller.
The Aztec's visit to University Arena was going to go down as a must-win regardless of whether or not Steve Alford's Lobos lost at Brigham Young. Now, following a 73-62 loss to the Cougars Tuesday night in Provo, Utah, the Lobos definitely have their backs firmly planted against the Mountain West Conference wall.
Lose a Pit game to SDSU and Alford expects his Lobos will be playing for MWC Tournament seeding and not the MWC regular-season crown.
"Teams have to stay away from that fifth loss," said Alford, whose Lobos are 7-4 and hovering just above that critical fifth MWC stain. "Four losses are going to win this thing, three maybe.
"We get that one on Saturday and we're right back in the middle of it. They (Aztecs) know it's a big, big game. We know it's a big game. It's a must win. We can still do some really special things, but we have to take care of Saturday."
If you buy into Alford's five-loss theory of elimination, the Lobos and UNLV (7-4) are the two contenders closest to dropping out of the race. The win over UNM pushed BYU to 8-3 and into a tie with SDSU (8-3). Utah is in the lead at 9-2. The Lobos have five MWC games left.
The Lobos could have vaulted into second place with a win at BYU, but Alford said his Lobos didn't play cerebral enough to win on the road against a quality opponent.
"It wasn't our best 40 minutes of concentrating," said Alford. "It wasn't our best 40 minutes of how intelligent you have to play. I loved our intensity. I loved our energy. I thought we really competed.
"But you can't play a team of this caliber on their home floor and not play intelligently. Playing them in this building, it's not that we had to be flawless, but we had to play a smart game and I just don't think we played very smart."
The Lobos trailed 29-26 at halftime after shooting 39.3 percent to BYU's 33.3 percent. A bad stretch in the second half allowed the Cougars to pull away.
The Lobos pulled to 45-37 on senior Chad Toppert's only trey of the game. BYU then went on a 7-0 run, the last points coming off a Jonathan Tavernari trey that put BYU up 52-37. Alford called a timeout with his team down 15 points with 8:19 left to play.
Tavernari hurt UNM with another trey to push BYU to a 55-39 lead and Jackson Emery, who had a career-high 19 points, banged in another trey to form a 58-42 Cougar lead. BYU held off the Lobos for the eventual 73-62 win.
"It wasn't a very smooth game for us offensively," said Alford. "On offense, we were out of character. We had guys doing things we shouldn't be doing. It wasn't a very smart game on our part. That's the most frustrating thing."
The Lobos were led by Tony Danridge with 17 points, Daniel Faris with 16 points and Dairese Gary with 15 points. BYU outrebounded UNM 40-to-35 and the Lobos went 13-of-22 from the line for a 59.1 percent night. BYU also had 11 offensive rebounds to six for the Lobos.
The Cougars shot 33 percent in the first half which was BYU's worst shooting half of the season. BYU shot 53.6 percent in the second half. UNM has now lost nine straight games at BYU.
Faris recorded his second career double-double and his early inside success was part of UNM's strategy. Alford said he hoped to make Faris an inside factor early and if BYU sent extra bodies at the 6-foot-9 Lobo, Faris was to kick the ball out to open shooters.
"We got the double team and then we couldn't get the ball out of the post," said Alford. "We did the things we wanted to do to get (BYU) into some trouble and then we didn't take advantage of it."
The Lobos got decent scoring from Danridge, Faris and Gary, but Roman Martinez had only three points and freshman Phillip McDonald had one point and shot only two field goals against the Cougars. UNM had a combined 11 turnovers from Martinez, Danridge, Faris and Gary. Toppert finished with seven points, but went 1-of-7 from behind the line. Toppert is 15 points from becoming the 26th Lobo to reach 1,000 career points.
BYU got 22 points from Tavernari, 19 from Jackson, 13 from Lee Cummard and 10 from Jimmer Fredette. The BYU/UNM game was the only MWC men's game on Tuesday.
UNM's game Saturday with SDSU will be televised nationally by Versus. The Aztecs have won three in a row in The Pit and only UTEP has ever won four straight against the Lobos in The Pit.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous GoLobo.com articles can be found on The Richard Stevens Corner.