Nov. 22, 2008
Saturday: Central Florida 72, Lobos 71
Monday: Lobos vs. Cal State Northridge, 7:07 p.m., The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
There were no excuses from Lobos Coach Steve Alford or his University of New Mexico Lobos after their heartbreaking 72-71 loss to Central Florida Saturday night in The Pit.
"They made the plays down the end and we didn't," said Alford. "And we didn't make the (defensive) stops down the end. I'm not very pleased."
Said Lobo senior Tony Danridge on his role as a leader: "I haven't been doing my job."
The loss was a blow for UNM because it probably was a game the Lobos should have won. All they needed was a couple of defensive stops, a couple more free throws, one less turnover -- and a finish.
"We just have to learn how to finish games," said Dairese Gary, UNM's sophomore point guard, who led all scorers with 20 points. "Our concentration has to be there for 40 minutes."
The Lobos led 69-60 with 2:07 to play and then started exchanging free throws for 3-pointers. The problem with that exchange was UNM converted only 2-of-4 free throws in the final minute of play and had two turnovers in the final two minutes of play.
Gary hit one of two free shots with 50 seconds to play and Central Florida's Jermaine Taylor hit a 3-pointer to make the score 70-67 in favor of UNM. The Lobos then turned the ball over to the Knights' press and Taylor threw down a savage dunk with 25 seconds to go to cut UNM's lead to 70-69.
Lobo freshman Phillip McDonald made one of two free throws with 20 seconds to go and Knight Chris Baez bombed in a long trey with four seconds to play to push Central Florida up 72-71. Gary got off a too-long trey at the buzzer and the Lobos dropped to 2-2 on the year.
"The thing we are struggling with is leadership," said Alford. "When it gets late-game, that's the thing that's most troublesome for us. They (Central Florida) fought. Their kids were hungry. It was kind of an ugly game. We shot 39 free throws and can't win, but we didn't make many of them."
The Lobos lost 15 points at the line going 24-of-39. They outscored Central Florida by nine from the line, but the Knights had four more field goals, including two more 3-pointers. The Lobos had controlled the boards early, up 18-13 at the half, but the game finished 31-to-30 for UNM. Both teams had 13 turnovers.
The Lobos were paced by Gary with 20 points and seven assists. Danridge had 13 points and a career-high six boards. Senior Daniel Faris had 10 points and McDonald and Chad Toppert each kicked in 9 points.
Alford said things don't get easier on Monday when Cal State Northridge steps into The Pit. The UNM coach said Northridge is an athletic team that plays "pressure defense."
The Knights also were an athletic team and refused to go away even when UNM had leads of nine points with 4:24 to play, 3:51 to play and 2:07 to play.
"For the most part, we really defended for 36 minutes," said Alford. "There are a lot of things we have to work on. I thought Dairese really played hard. He was one of the guys who gave us a big-time effort. He is one of those guys who is tough. We have to find a way to have that rub off on some of these other guys."
Gary said allowing Central Florida to get off an open trey in the closing seconds was a lack of concentration by the UNM defense. "Coach said, 'No 3-pointers,'" said Gary. "That's a mental breakdown. Now we have to do something to get our confidence back. Something has to happen."
That opportunity definitely isn't far away. It steps into The Pit on Monday night. It's called Cal State Northridge.
The Lobos second half with Central Florida was just the same as the first half -- a battle. With 7:39 to go in the first half, UNM was up 50-49 coming out of a media timeout. Two of Alford's talented freshmen came out of the timeout and hit back-to-back shots. McDonald rolled off a pick and accepted the ball near the elbow of the free-throw line and swished a 15-footer to put UNM up 52-49. Will Brown hit a baseline jumper to make it 54-49.
The Lobos pushed their lead to nine points when Roman Martinez split the middle on the pressing Knights and hit Danridge cutting on the baseline. The senior hung in the air, doubled pumped and touched one off the glass as he was fouled. Danridge converted the 3-pointer at the line to nudge UNM into a 66-57 lead. The Knights hit a trey and called timeout at 2:14, down 66-60.
The Knights fouled Gary before the ball could be thrown in. Gary hit one to put UNM up 67-60. Danridge then came behind the Knights' break, to get a steal. He fed a breaking Gary, who was fouled and hit them both to put UNM up 69-60 with 2:07 to play. Alford called a timeout.
The Knights came out of the break and Baez hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 69-63. The Knights called time at 1:52, down six. The Lobos lost the ball on a turnover at 1:24 when Martinez was called for throwing an elbow while protecting the ball.
UNM's Wills was called for a hold as Taylor broke down the middle. Taylor hit one of the free ones and UNM was up 69-64. Knight A.J. Rompza was called on a reach as Gary drives and the sophomore went to the line with 51.8 seconds to go. Gary made one and UNM was up 70-64. Taylor rolled off a pick for Central Florida and gave them a chance with a long trey to cut it to 70-67 with 36.2 seconds to play.
The Lobos got the ball inbounds, but Taylor stole Jonathan Wills' pass down the middle and Taylor went in for a monster dunk -- one point game at 70-69. UNM's McDonald was fouled with 20.7 to play and hit one to make it 71-69.
The Knights came down, ran a quick offense, and Baez rolled off a pick to rattle in the winning trey.
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