Feb. 28, 2009
Saturday: Lobos 81, Colorado State 79 (2OT)
Up Next: Lobos vs. Utah, 7 p.m. Tuesday, The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was a Lobo finish and a Lobo win that was one part miracle and three parts guts and maybe even another part miracle because this was one long game. Two overtimes.
The Lobos, down five points with 13 seconds to play in regulation, found a way to produce overtime and then another overtime before escaping Moby Arena with a 81-79 double-overtime thriller over Colorado State.
The Lobos' win combined with the Utah Utes' 63-50 loss Saturday at Brigham Young makes the Lobo/Ute shootout Tuesday in The Pit a pivotal game in determining who will wear the 2009 Mountain West Conference crown. It could be UNM, Utah, BYU -- or all three.
"I've been thrilled every home game I've had. but I cannot wait to coach Tuesday night's game," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "That has all the makings of one of those very, very special Pit games.
"The team that is one game ahead of us is coming into our place on Tuesday and we can't wait."
The (19-10) Lobos' win at CSU raised UNM to 10-4 in the Mountain West race and into a second-place tie with BYU. Utah is still up a game at 11-3. The Lobos almost dropped out of that race against CSU, but somehow found a way to come up with five points and a steal in the final 13 seconds of regulation play.
CSU's Andre McFarland hit two free throws to put his team up 62-57 with 13 ticks to play and the Rams called a timeout to setup their defense.
UNM's Dairese Gary raced down the court and got the ball to Chad Toppert, who banged in a 3-pointer with seven seconds to go. CSU was an in-bounds away from the win. The Rams got the ball in, but UNM quickly tied up the ball and got possession. Toppert launched a quick trey that was short, but senior Daniel Faris was there to throw up a wild shot that went in to produce the tie -- and the overtime.
"I don't know what to say about some of the loose balls we got. It was just amazing," said Alford. "And then to make the shots and execute.
"The back-and-forth in both overtimes was phenomenal. We made the plays you have to make when you want to stay in some kind of race. This is very, very exciting."
The first overtime looked like it would fall into the Lobos' lap, but CSU's Harvey Perry got fouled with 13.8 seconds to go. He made the first, but UNM failed to control the rebound on Perry's second shot and Marcus Walker, who went off on UNM for 33 points, scored to produce a 71-71 tie.
UNM still had time, but Gary drove the length of the court and turned the ball over on a charge. Walker got a good look at a trey for CSU, but missed and the teams marched into a second overtime.
The Lobos jumped up 78-73 in the second overtime on a trey by Jonathan Wills and two Gary free shots. Walker hit a trey to cut UNM's lead to 78-77. A key play was CSU getting called for a five-second count trying to bring the ball in-bounds and still down 78-77.
UNM got its final points with 7.2 seconds to play when Toppert, UNM's best free throw shooter, missed one free throw, but made the second to make the count 81-79 with 7.2 seconds to play. CSU got a nice look at the bucket near the buzzer but missed and -- finally -- the Lobos had the win.
The Lobos were paced by Toppert with 19 points, Gary with 18 points and eight assists, Roman Martinez with 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Tony Danridge with 12 points. "I thought Dairese was the biggest key in the game," Alford said of his point guard's play in the extra periods.
The Rams trailed 30-23 at the half, but closed with a 7-0 run that allowed CSU to go into the second half with a little momentum. The Rams' didn't let go of that momentum early in the second half and a 9-0 run turned UNM's 30-23 halftime lead into a 34-32 CSU lead.
CSU held leads of 47-42, 49-44, and 53-45 with 5:01 to play. CSU was up 58-51 with 3:15 to play. The Rams could have closed out this win with good ball handling in the final minute, but CSU turned the ball over three times in the final 51 seconds. Still, CSU was up five points with 13 seconds to play.
The Lobos will be looking at an odd form of payback Tuesday when the Utes come to visit. The Lobos got a favor from BYU when the Cougars added a stain to the Utes' loss column. Now, the Lobos need to return the favor.
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