Jan. 10, 2009
Saturday: Lobos 78, Air Force 53
Up Next: Lobos vs. BYU, Jan. 17, The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Three point guards for the Lobos? Well, maybe. It definitely worked Saturday in The Pit as sophomore Jonathan Wills slid over to that spot and ran the team like, well, like a point guard.
"He's a very versatile guard," said Lobos coach Steve Alford following New Mexico's 78-53 Mountain West Conference romp over the Air Force Falcons that pushed UNM to 10-7 on the year and 1-1 in league play.
"He can play the one, the two, the three. I thought he was a key in the first half. I thought of all the guys who played in the first half, he was our biggest key."
The first half was the biggest key of the two halves, too. UNM raced from a 9-6 lead into a 24-6 lead at the 11:37 mark and the Lobos just pulled away. "I thought our guys were tremendous on defense," said Alford. "And we made shots. We took good shots and we made shots. You obviously look better when you make shots."
If Wills was the key to the first half, then freshman Phillip McDonald might be called the engine. He scored 11 of his 15 points during a 15-0 first-half run that help UNM separate from the Falcons on the scoreboard. The 78 points were the most given up by Air Force this season.
The Lobos had three players with 15 points: McDonald, Tony Danridge and Chad Toppert. Daniel Faris added 11. Wills had eight points and six assists. UNM shot 54.3 percent for the game and 56.5 percent in the decisive first half. Air Force shot 31.8 percent from the floor in the first half. The only significant stat that favored the visitors from Air Force was rebounding, 32-to-26.
"We got good stops. We got out in transition," said Alford. "I thought we really executed our offense. (Wills) gets a chance to play and he keeps playing. I thought he was our most productive point (guard)."
The Lobos' first half was sparked by a lot of things and a lot of Lobos, but McDonald got hot during a stretch where he dropped in three treys and a jumper. The freshman's wide-open trey from the right baseline pushed UNM up 14-6. His next basket was a drive across the lane in which McDonald lost his balance, nailed the 12-footer and then did a backward roll near the top of the key.
Toppert rolled off a screen at 13:39 and drilled a trey to pad UNM's lead to 17-6, but this was a half for a freshman to rule from the 3-point line, not a senior.
McDonald dropped in another trey at 12:31 to make it 21-6 in UNM's favor. Less than a minute later, Wills drove the middle and fired a pass to McDonald again in the right corner: Swish -- and UNM led 24-6. McDonald was 4-of-5 from the field and 3-of-3 from behind the line at that point. UNM was shooting 69.2 percent from the field.
"Everything was just falling today," said McDonald. "(Wills) ran the point pretty good today. When I was open, he got me the ball."
UNM ran to a 41-20 halftime lead and was up by as many as 33 points (75-42) in the second half. The Lobos did a good job running their half-court offense, but UNM also got open looks on fast-break opportunities.
"The game is more fun when it's transition," McDonald said. Said Wills: "I just pushed the ball. We're at our best when we're running."
The Lobos displayed sharp shooting throughout the game, hitting 9-of-16 (56.3 percent) from 3-point range. "I think we're a great shooting team," said Wills. The Falcons went 6-of-18 from behind the line.
The Lobos came out of the lockerroom and McDonald hit another trey at 14:36 to roll UNM's lead to 52-25 and Air Force called a time. Faris converted an old-fashioned 3-point play and UNM carried a 55-30 lead into the 10:57 timeout.
Toppert put together five points on a 15-footer followed by a trey. Faris backed those points by pounding in a layup to produce a 62-33 UNM lead and also an Air Force timeout. There wasn't much the Falcons could do about stopping the Lobos. They were in The Pit, playing well, defending well and shooting well. UNM cruised to the 78-53 final.
Alford took advantage of the score to dip heavily into his bench. Even walk-ons Chris Johansen and Dion Williams made the floor. Freshman Will Brown logged 18 minutes and Wills played 25 minutes. Brown led UNM in rebounding with six.
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 articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner