Jan. 31, 2009
Saturday: Utah 69, Lobos 68
Up Next: Lobos vs. Wyoming, 8 p.m., Tuesday, The Pit
By Richard Stevens Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Almost. No, make that almost again.
The New Mexico Lobos for the third time pushed a Mountain West Conference home team to the limit, but failed to make the plays or the shots in the final minutes and lost a heartbreaker 69-68 Saturday to the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City.
"This was a tough one," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford. "We've come up a possession short in all three of them." UNM also lost close games at UNLV and San Diego State.
The Lobos had two turnovers on their final three possessions and their final possession ended with senior Chad Toppert forcing up a long trey over pressure that bounced harmlessly off the front of the rim. The Lobos never trailed in this game from the 7:14 mark of the second half until Utah senior Lawrence Borha threw in a short jumper with ten seconds to play to put the Utes up 69-68.
"Bottom line, their senior makes a play at the end," said Alford. "We had our chances in the last minute. We step on the (line) on one of them and then we force a shot at the end. We didn't execute in the last minute and they did and you have to give them credit for that."
The Lobos lost the ball with 1:13 to play when Daniel Faris stepped on the line while working the baseline on Utah's 7-foot-2 Luke Nevill. UNM lost the ball with 28 seconds to go when guard Dairese Gary stepped out at almost the indentical spot.
The Utes got the winning shot from Borha after he got past Tony Danridge on the baseline and then threw a high jumper over Faris that cleared the top edge of the backboard and found the net. The Lobos got the ball past half court and called time with 7.8 seconds to play.
The Lobos never really got a good look at a final shot as Gary flipped the ball to Roman Martinez on the left side. Martinez lost his footing looking to drive and from his knees passed the ball back to Toppert, who tossed up a long 3-pointer over good defensive pressure from Utah. His shot hit the front of the rim. Alford said the play was designed to go to Toppert on the right side, but Gary went to his left instead.
"I thought we really fought," said Alford. "We hold them to 40 (40.7) percent shooting. We shoot 54 percent, so we made a lot of shots. They get 15 points at the line and we get six. It's frustrating to get beat 15 to six at the free throw line and still have a chance to get it done."
It was a tough loss for the Lobos since they probably outplayed Utah most of the game and especially considering the 6-foot-9 Faris outplayed the 7-2 Nevill for most of the game. Faris ended with 18 points and eight rebounds. Nevill went 2-of-8 from the floor and scored only 11 points and had six rebounds.
"Daniel just played arguably the best player in the league and the numbers weren't even close," said Alford. "Daniel outplayed him start to finish. His effort tonight was extremely appreciated by me and the staff."
Said Nevill: "They kind of swarmed me and I wasn't able to move in the post."
Faris was joined in double figures by Martinez with 14 points. Toppert came off the bench to score nine points and Nate Garth had five assists. UNM and Utah fought even on the boards, 29-to-29. The Lobos were 8-of-13 from behind the line and Utah was 10-of-21.
"I thought our defense was great," said Alford. "I thought we defended well and they had to make some threes." Alford said his Lobos made too many little mistakes down the stretch and "they added up in the end until it gave them a shot at the end and a senior makes a great play and scores."
The loss dropped UNM to 13-9 overall and 4-3 in the MWC. The Lobos play host to Wyoming at 8 p.m., Tuesday in The Pit.
The Lobos' second half showed a lot of tenacity and confidence from Alford's young Lobos. UNM, down 38-30 at the half, cut the Utah lead to 38-33 on a Phillip McDonald drive and score that also included a Nevill foul. McDonald hit the free one. Gary drove on Nevill a few seconds later and pushed one off the glass to make it 38-35. Faris hit a jumper to make it 41-37. Faris then threw a spin move on Nevill and scored to cut Utah's lead to 41-39 going into the media timeout at 15:42.
The Lobos finally wiped out Utah's halftime lead when Martinez set a screen and then popped out to hit a trey to form a 44-44 tie. The Lobos went ahead at 11:46 when Martinez hit another 3-pointer to put UNM up 49-46. Faris hit two free throws at 10:51 to make it 51-48 in UNM's favor. Green then hit a Utah trey to tie the game a 51-all.
Utah grabbed the lead back at 54-53 when Brown threw in an acrobatic layup, was fouled, and added the free throw. Utah got a backdoor layup to go up 56-53 and Toppert tied it 56-all on a trey. At 8:05, Utah converted a one-and-one to take a 58-56 lead into the 7:46 timeout.
UNM muscled the lead back at 7:13 when Martinez floated in a trey to put UNM up 59-58. Danridge padded that lead by two points on a drive that ended with the Lobo senior tossing in a short jumper over Nevill's long arms. UNM was up 61-58 and Utah called a timeout at 5:51.
The Utes came out of the break and turned the ball over on an offensive foul by Nevill, his fourth at 5:42. Martinez continued to stay hot at the 3-point line and hit one to raise UNM's lead to 64-58. The Utes got a trey and two free throws by Nevill to scratch within a point at 64-63. Faris went to the free throw line at 4:11 and missed a one-and-one, way long. At the 3:51 time, the Lobos held that 64-63 lead.
Faris pushed UNM up 66-63 on a left handed hook in the paint. Utah's Carlon Brown scooped in a layup to make it 66-65. Garth found a hole in the lane to flip in a layup and UNM was up 68-65. Utah turned the ball over and Martinez had a trey rattle out. Utah then missed a trey and Alford called a timeout at 2:11. Nevill, who had been on the bench for more than two minutes, came back in the game. The Lobos had the ball and a 3-point lead.
Toppert missed an 18-footer, but Martinez got the rebound in a crowd. UNM lost the ball at 1:13 when Faris stepped on the line working against Nevill. The Utes' big man got fouled at the 56.5 mark and made them both to make it 68-67.
UNM brought the ball down, but there wasn't much movement on offense and Alford called a timeout with 35.2 seconds to play and 14 seconds on the shot clock. Gary turned the ball over driving the baseline and stepping on the line. Utah called a timeout with 28.8 seconds to play and down a point.
Then Borha hit his big shot and UNM's offense failed to execute in the final seconds.
The Lobos fell behind early in the first half 7-4 on a Utah 3-pointer, but then the Lobos got their transition game going to form a 9-0 run. A bucket by Martinez near the free throw line pushed UNM up 10-7. Garth subbed in and banged in a 3-pointer from the left side to hand UNM a 13-7 lead. The Lobos also got fast-break buckets from Danridge and McDonald during that 9-0 run.
UNM jumped up 18-10 on a 3-pointer by Toppert and a Faris jumper near the free-throw line. Nevill got his first field goal of the game inside to cut UNM's lead to 18-12. At the 6:06 mark, UNM was up 24-20. Utah came down and hit a trey to make it 24-23 going into the 5:33 media timeout. Faris put Nevill at the line at 4:58 and the 7-2 center hit both free shots to put Utah back in front at 25-24. It was Utah's first lead since the score was 7-6.
Utah used a UNM turnover to get a 3-pointer by Shaun Green to form a 28-24 Utah lead. Nevill blocked a Danridge shot on UNM's next possession and Utah got another trey. The 31-24 Utah lead had Alford calling a timeout at 3:11.
The Utes got two at the line at 2:32 to slip ahead 33-25. Toppert cut into that gap by rolling off a screen and throwing in a long trey near the top of the key to make it 33-28. Green got loose on the baseline for Utah and hit a trey to give Utah a 38-28 gap. Danridge scored on a break to form the 38-30 halftime score.
The good news for UNM in the first half was holding Nevill to four points. The bad news was giving the Utes too many open looks from behind the line. The Utes hit seven 3-pointers in the half to three for UNM.
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