STEVENS: Lobos Have Howling Good Time in Santa Ana Star Center
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/16/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 16, 2009


By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The turnout for the University of New Mexico's 2009 Howl was great. The Lobos didn't look too bad either.

A Lobo-embracing crowd of approximately 3,500 ventured to a cool and far Northwest corner of Rio Rancho and snuggled into the warm Santa Ana Star Center to welcome Steve Alford's Lobo men and Don Flanagan's Lobo women into the 2009-10 season.

"The fans are the greatest here and I hope we've earned some new ones," said Flanagan. "It's a great placed to play and it's second only to The Pit."

Alford said he wasn't suprised by the crowd. He said Lobo fans don't really care when or where New Mexico plays hoops. They just want to see a ball rolled out for Lobos to play with.

"It was a great crowd," said Lobo guard Phillip McDonald. "I've never been here before, but the atmosphere was great. It was fun playing out here."

Flanagan's and Alford's Lobos moved the Howl into the Star Center as The Pit puts on a few final touches to ready it for the 2009-10 season. Oh, The Pit's $60 million facelift won't be complete until November of 2010, but the doors will open this November for both the men and women.

Lobo senior Amy Beggin retained her crown in the women's 3-point contest, but there was a surprise there, too. The queen was booed.

"I know. What's up with that," said the Lobo senior point guard. "I guess they wanted someone else to win. I've never been booed in Albuquerque before."

Well, actually the good-natured catcalls came on Rio Rancho soil. And it was just that -- the Santa Ana crowd throwing themselves behind the underdog, but still behind a Lobo. Kind of like what they did when Flanagan's Lobos went to war last season during the WNIT on the Star Center court.

Beggin didn't return to her throne easily. She had to go into sudden-death overtime with Amanda Best to even advance to the finals against sophomore Lauren Taylor.

The OT with Best was decided by a shootoff at the top of the key. Best went first and missed. Beggin went swish. Nothing new there. You give Beggin a clutch shot and it usually kisses the net. She beat Taylor by a single shot.

'I knew I would face a challenge because we have some great shooters," said Beggin. "I obviously want to win, but I just go out there to have fun and not put any pressure on myself. To have that kind of competition is great because I know that will carry over to our games.

"This (Howl) was a lot of fun for us because we have just been going through short practices, so to come out in this kind of atmosphere is a great way to start the season."

Of course, one of the highlights of the Lobos' preseason greet-and-meet with their fans was the dribbling exhibition by Nikki Nelson. Her act has been seen on national TV. She still has it.

The scrimmage revealed about what you expected from Flanagan's 2009-10 Lobos. His perimeter stuff looked good and deep. The Cherry team of Chinyere Nnaji, Emily Stark, Sara Halasz, Jessica Kielpinski, Georonika Jackson, Eileen Weissmann -- and, of course, Beggin -- won 32-28.

The Silver team featured Caroline Durbin, Jourdan Erskine, Jordan Unverzagt, Nikki Nelson, Lauren Taylor, Porche Torrance, Amanda Best and Valerie Kast.

The Cherry was paced by Halasz and Jackson with eight points and Beggin with seven. Weissmann had four rebounds and Nnaji had three boards. The Silver was led by Kast with eight, Nelson with six and Taylor with five. Kast had four rebounds.

"One of our question marks is the five (center) position," said Flanagan. "I thought Val played pretty well there, but she still has some work to do. I was pretty pleased. Overall, I thought we looked pretty decent."

Probably the most fan curiosity was aimed at Alford's Lobos. Flanagan has 10 Lobos and four seniors, who have played in The Pit. Alford returns six lettermen, a lone senior in Roman Martinez, and six newcomers including redshirt freshman Curtis Dennis, JC transfer Darrington Hobson, and walk-on Kevin Nelson. Yeah, Alford needs some help from his Lobo pups.

One first-year Lobo who starred in the Star Center Friday night was Hobson. He averaged 15.2 points and 8.7 rebounds last year at the College of Eastern Utah. His shooting touch followed him to the Star Center as he burned in 21 points on a 9-for-15 shooting night.

The talented 6-foot-7 transfer also pulled down five rebounds for the winning Cherry team of Dairese Gary, Phillip McDonald, Martinez and Matt Staff. McDonald had 12 points for the Cherry.

"I felt real comfortable in here," said Hobson. "I kind of liked these rims, but I can't wait to play in The Pit."

The Silver team had one player in double figures, A.J. Hardeman with 11. Dennis scored seven for that color. The team also consisted of Chad Adams, Nate Garth, Jamal Fenton, and Nelson.

Amy Beggin, no surprise here, repeated as the 3-point champion for Flanagan's women. McDonald won for the men.

Garth and McDonald had the best one-on-one match of the night simply to reach the finals of the long-shot contest. They marched into sudden-death overtime .. then double overtime ... then triple OT before McDonald survived on a one-shot playoff. McDonald beat Dennis in the finals, winning on his final shot from the baseline.

McDonald then went into a long-distance shooting match with ex-Lobo Chad Toppert. It ended in a tie. There was no playoff.

As usual, the always-playful slam-dunk contest was the highlight of the men's portion of the Howl. The Pit is going to love Jamal Fenton.

In the slam-dunk contest, the 5-foot-9 freshman threw down a sweet one and then demanded the replay guys rewind it because he missed the first replay on the big screen. Fenton took a look, liked what he saw, and stood before the Star crowd and howled.

Hobson looked good in the contest, too. His best dunk came off a bounce pass from Garth which ended with Hobson soaring over a crouched Garth for the slam. The finals worked down to Fenton, Hobson and Hardeman.

Fenton's finale was a shocker. He did a few gymnastic flips, including a roundoff, before receiving a pass from Hobson. Fenton didn't have the legs left to get the dunk down. Still, it was a supreme effort and a crowd-pleaser.

Hobson was creative in the finals, too. He received a pass off the thin side of the backboard and went in for the dunk. He missed. On his final try, he threw down a windmill dunk off a bounce pass.

The stage was set for Hardeman. The 6-8 sophomore did a soft, cradle dunk to slip into an early lead. The crowd was unimpressed. He then missed twice on two windmills. There was no strong winner here, but Hobson got to advance to battle UNM's special dunker -- ex-Lobo Tony Danridge.

Danridge marched out in a wig and beach clothes. The winner of the dunk contest at the 2009 Final Four went against Hobson in exhibition. No winner was named.

The women opened the Howl festivites on Friday. The Lobo men ended it with their dunking. Alford officially ended the Howl by grabbing a microphone and thanking the Santa Ana crowd for their support. He also invited them to visit the faraway Pit.