Oct. 17, 2008
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was gathering for all Lobos to strut their stuff, run the court, and sign autographs in The Pit, but it was kind of neat to see and hear the special love thrown out to two Lobos.
Nelson put on a dazzling and creative dribbling exhibition that wowed the crowd. Ditto for Danridge, but the oohs and aahs for this 6-foot-5 jumping jack came from the monster dunks he threw down in easily winning the men's dunk contest.
But the standing ovation given to both Lobos really went beyond the skills they showed the 5,000-plus who came to Howl for their Lobos. It also was a welcome-back greeting for two University of New Mexico players who had to sit out the 2007-08 season in pain.
Danridge watched from the sidelines last year nursing a broken leg. Nelson sat out with a knee injury. Both Lobos are expected to play big roles during the 2008-09 season.
"The crowd really made me feel good," said Danridge, a fifth-year senior. "They showed me so much love. I was actually surprised a little bit with how they greeted me. It makes me excited to be back."
Nelson was the first show stopper of the evening as Don Flanagan's women took the court first and Nelson went out to the half-court line and dazzled The Pit with a variety of dribbling moves that included some nifty tricks with two basketballs.
"When I was little, my dad was my coach and he told me to make sure my right hand was never my strong, dominant hand," said Nelson, a redshirt freshman. "He said, `Nikki, make sure you practice on both of your hands. So, I thought, `Why don't I dribble with two balls at once?' Then I said, `Maybe I can add some tricks to it, maybe I can do this.' Pretty soon it evolved into a routine that I would put on for people.
"A lot of the stuff I just made up by myself with my dad's help. I used to have two sheets of plywood in my room over the carpet because I wanted to dribble in my room. My dad screwed the plywood down and I'd just dribble away."
After Nelson's dribbling act, the Lobo women scrimmaged for the crowd. Probably the biggest question mark for Flanagan's team this season is whether it can replace the inside scoring of Dionne Marsh. The evidence Friday night was favorable as 6-3 Angela Hartill scored 14 points and 6-6 Valerie Kast scored 12 points to lead all scorers.
The women's 3-point contest went to junior Amy Beggin, who also won the long-range contest at last year's Howl.
"I said the pressure was on me because I had to defend my title," said Beggin. "We could probably do this five different times and have five different winners. This is a good team. I love this team. We have so much fun together and I expect us to have a really good year."
Flanagan said he probably will go with an up-tempo game this season and also hopes to establish a solid 10-player rotation because of his depth.
"As you look out there, it's kind of hard to see who's not going to play a lot of minutes," said Alford, in his second season as a Lobo. "If we're going to play a lot of people, we might as well extend the defense and pressure a little bit.
"We are extremely athletic. The most athletic team I've had. Hopefully, we can work that to our advantage, put on pressure defensively, start picking up full court a little bit and start wearing people down."
One of Alford's many talented freshmen wasted no time in impressing The Pit crowd. Phillip McDonald, rated a Top 100 player coming out of high school, showed his heralded shooting touch from the outside.
"He's just a special talent," said Alford. "He's got the ability to score and he knows how to score."
McDonald also outshot senior Chad Toppert in the first round of the 3-point contest before falling to Toppert in the finals. Freshman Curtis Dennis actually took Toppert into sudden-death before Toppert drained four-of-five at the top of the key to win the long-range contest.
"This team is great," said Danridge. "You can see all the talent out there and all the really young talent."
Said Alford: "We have a long way to go defensively. We knew that. But one thing was apparent in just a 15-minute scrimmage: We have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket."
The Lobo men's season begins on Nov. 8 with an exhibition game against Western New Mexico. The women's first exhibition is Nov. 4 against Melbourne.
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.