Feb. 1, 2011
Lobo Men's Basketball - On The Mountain West Road
Tuesday: Lobos 75, Air Force 61
Up Next: Feb. 9, Wyoming at Lobos - The Pit
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The actual win doesn't go down as a suspicious one because Lobos usually beat Falcons. But this 75-61 win was a dismantling of Falcons.
The Lobos turned these birds of prey into doves and sparrows, and that usually doesn't happen, especially in Air Force's Clune Arena.
So, was Steve Alford holding secret, midnight practices in The Pit to give his Lobos a cram session on the intricacies and inner workings of the Air Force Falcons' Princeton offense and their crafty match-up zone?
The Lobos looked as prepared in their 75-61 Mountain West Conference win over Air Force as Einstein might be for an algebra 101 test.
"It was about getting your team focused," said Alford after Tuesday night's win that handed him his 400th career coaching win. "You have less than 48 hours to turn around and play a team like this.
"This (Princeton offense) was new for a lot of our young players. I thought we controlled the game from the outset and that's a credit to the players."
For sure, the Lobos looked ready. For sure, there were more than a few times that Air Force's maze of screens and motion led to easy Falcon buckets.
As much as anything, the Falcons had no answer for the Lobos on the other end of the court. Air Force shot 55.8 percent from its floor and 42.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line. They outshoot the Lobos in both categories and they lose by 14.
Air Force was down 58-35 with 11:51 to play and down 71-52 with 3:50 to play. The Lobos really did coast in for their 16th win (16-7) of the season that evened their MWC record at 4-4. The Lobos next play Feb. 9 in The Pit looking to avenge their loss at Wyoming.
"Our guys haven't benefited from a bye week and we only get one in league play," said Alford. "We have to take advantage of our bye week and get healthy. We have some guys banged up."
The Lobos didn't get the start they wanted in MWC play dropping 3-of-4 out of the gate. The Lobos threw out a nice finish to the close of the first half of the race by winning three straight, including knocking off then No. 9 Brigham Young in The Pit.
If the Lobos have any hopes of defending their MWC title, they can't go 4-4 in the second half of the league race. The Lobos open the second half with a Pit game against a struggling Wyoming team and then UNM has a monster of a game at Colorado State. The Rams are in that all-important third spot in the Mountain standings.
The scoreboard that leaned heavily toward UNM was not necessarily backed by the shooting stats. UNM shot 51.1 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range, which is good, but didn't match the Falcons' aim.
UNM had a nice edge on the glass, winning that battle 26-19 in a game that saw most of the shots fall. The Lobos also went 19-of-21 (90 percent) from the line to 7-of-11 for Air Force.
The Lobos were led in scoring by Drew Gordon with 17 points, Kendall Williams with 16 points, A.J. Hardeman with 12 points and Chad Adams with 10 points. Dairese Gary had eight assists and Jamal Fenton had four steals.
"We did a good job inside," said Alford. "Drew is scoring for us and he is rebounding for us and tonight he didn't turn the ball over. A.J. was terrific off the bench. The two Bigs we played did a lot of good things."
Snell, Williams and Gordon were three first-year Lobos taking their first on-the-court look at Air Force's Princeton offense. At times, it looked like they were re-reading an old, familiar book. Alford leaned to a four-guard lineup because of Air Force's size and movement.
The Lobos jumped out to a 13-5 lead and were up 43-24 at the half. "We got off to a really good start," said Alford.
The Falcons came out of the locker room down by 19 points and quickly cut UNM's lead to 43-28. The Lobos roared back. A Williams' dunk followed by a Hardeman dunk put UNM up 49-28 - a 21-point bulge. UNM went up 53-30 before a small Air Force run cut that gap to 53-35. Alford called a timeout with 13:22 to play and his Lobos up by 18 points.
The Lobos came out of the break to get a 3-pointer from Adams which bumped UNM's lead to 56-35. Adams then scored inside and UNM was up 58-35 - 23 points again.
The Falcons only hope was to shoot lights out and frustrate the Lobos on the other end of the court. The Falcons shot pretty well, but could never throw a run of stops on the UNM offense. UNM rolled to the 75-61 MWC win.
First Half: Lobos 43, Air Force 24
Lobo Stat Leaders: Gordon 13 pts., Williams 12 pts., Gary 5 assts.
It's usually an important thing to get off to a good start on the road and the Lobos did exactly that at Air Force rolling out to a 13-5 lead.
The Lobos worked the Falcons' match-up zone, Gary penetrated on the left wing and lobed a lead-pass to a cutting Gordon. The Gordon dunk at 15:09 gave UNM that 13-5 start.
The Falcons started to have success running their Princeton offense and began to move the scoreboard. Their problem was on defense where the Lobos also were running smoothly and making shots. A Williams' trey put UNM up 19-9. It was his third trey of the game.
Gary scored to push UNM up 29-18 and then added a steal on the other end. Another Gary drive led to a pass to a cutting Gordon, who scored on a short runner and added a free throw for a 32-18 Lobo lead.
Air Force cut UNM's lead to 33-22 with 3:17 to play in the half. The Lobos then drifted away to a 41-24 lead. Air Force called time.
The Lobos used two Hardeman free throws to carry a 43-24 lead into the half. UNM shot 55.6 percent in the first half going 7-of-14 from 3-point range. The Lobos had a solid inside-outside touch with Gordon scoring 13 inside and Williams hitting four treys for his 12-point total.
UNM dominated the glass 15-9 with Hardeman pulling down five for UNM. Gary ended the first half with five assists.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.