Stevens: Lobos Look To Spit Out 'Nasty' Taste Vs. Wyoming
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/08/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 8, 2011

Game Notes #24: New Mexico hosting WyomingGet Acrobat Reader

Lobo Men's Basketball -- In The Pit
Wednesday: 6:05 p.m., Wyoming at Lobos
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Up Next: Lobos at Colorado State, Saturday -- Fort Collins, Colo.

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com In February, that four-lettered word/acronym keeps popping up -- NCAA. It's the time of the hoops season when look-ahead types talk about "locks" and "at-large bids" and "bubbles." The talk will only get louder with the approach of March.

For coaches like New Mexico's Steve Alford, those questions are not nearly as important as what's on your immediate plate and whom is your immediate foe. You look ahead, you just might fall behind.

"You get into the month of February and everyone starts talking NCAA," said Alford. "But unless you are a lock, you have a lot of work to do."

For the Lobos (16-7, 4-4), the plate offering, the foe and the immediate "work" is Wyoming, which visits the Pit at 6 p.m., Wednesday, The Cowboys are looking for a season sweep of Lobos and their second league win of the season.

"They sent us home with a real nasty taste," said Lobo senior Dairese Gary of UNM`s 67-66 loss in Laramie. "We still have that taste in our mouth."

UNM's battle with Wyoming, which opens the second half of the MWC run, is really a huge game -- maybe even a must-win game.

It's huge because a second loss to Wyoming would be as crippling as the win over Brigham Young was helpful. Lose to Wyoming and you fall deeper into a hole behind Colorado State and UNLV is the Mountain West chase of BYU and San Diego State.

Lose to Wyoming and your march into March will be steep and challenging.

"I feel like we shouldn't have lost that game, "said Lobo junior post Drew Gordon of the loss at Wyoming. "This time we want to make sure we are 100 percent focused."

The Lobos' focus probably wasn't 100 percent in Laramie, but the Cowboys played well and the Lobos didn't. Lately, the Lobos have played well. UNM rides a three-game wins streak into The Pit which balances out a 1-4 start into a 4-4 midway mark.

There are several reasons for UNM's win streak, but an obvious change is more of an emphasis on a four-guard lineup with Gordon as the main target in the paint.

"You try different buttons and you try different lineups," said Alford. "That's what we've done. It doesn't mean that's what we'll stay with (all the time). I don't think you'll see four guards all the time."

Part of the reason for the effectiveness of that small lineup is Gordon getting more touches with more room to work with. He has a nice touch and a variety of post moves. He is making better decisions and is more consistent in getting shots to fall. He also has four solid shooters to pass back out to, if the paint closes in on him.

"We said with time a lot of the things were going to fall into place," said Gordon, who averages 12.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. "I'm pretty much adjusted. There is a chemistry there."

The smaller lineup also gives UNM perimeter quickness on both ends of the court and an array of talented shooters. Freshman Tony Snell is playing with more confidence and the bench is providing solid help especially lately in Chad Adams on the edge and A.J. Hardeman inside.

Wyoming has made some changes, too, and the most noticeable is at the head coaching spot where Heath Schroyer had his contract terminated this week. He leaves Wyoming with a 49-68 overall mark (.419 percent) and 16-14 (.281) in MWC play.

The loss may or may not effect Wyoming`s play on Wednesday, but Schroyer scored no points in Wyoming's win over UNM in Laramie. There are still other Cowboys to worry about.

UNM made Wyoming's Adam Waddell look like an All-MWC post with his 16 points (5-of-7) and eight boards. Daylen Harrison scored 17 points going 6-of-7 from the field and 3-of-3 from behind the 3-point line. Desmar Jackson scored 15.

Of course, the dagger was tossed up at the buzzer when Francisco Cruz lofted a rainbow over the outstretched hands of UNM's Alex Kirk. The shot was thrown so high that the net barely moved as the ball came down. It was Cruz's only field goal of the second half.

Wyoming is on the skids with its 1-8 MWC mark, and the Cowboys have some problems. They also have some quickness and good athletes. A key for Wyoming is to stop UNM from putting together too many scoring runs in The Pit.

The Lobos, along with Colorado State and UNLV, probably see ways in which SDSU (8-1) and BYU (8-1) can be caught in the second-half run. CSU is 6-3 and almost got a huge win over SDSU in Fort Collins before falling to the Aztecs, 56-54. CSU plays host to the Lobos on Saturday and are promoting the event as a pack-the-gym night with gift giveaways throughout the week for CSU fans.

UNLV is a bump ahead of UNM (4-4) at 5-4. The Lobos have plenty of games to make a charge in the MWC race, but the Lobos also have to visit the gyms of the three teams atop the league standings: SDSU, BYU and CSU. UNLV has to come to The Pit.

Alford says UNLV, CSU and his Lobos still have a lot of work to do before they can start thinking about the NCAA tournament, but the Lobo coach is willing to use the term "locks" when it comes to 23-1 SDSU and 22-2 BYU.

"I think San Diego State and Brigham Young are locks and then a lot can happen," said Alford. " You never know who is going to get hot. You never know about injuries."

The Lobos were hurt by the loss of Emmanuel Negedu, an athletic, mobile 6-7 forward, because of health issues. Alford said he does not expect Negedu to return to the court this season.

The Aztecs had starting guard Chase Tapley and backup Tim Shelton go down in SDSU's game vs. TCU, but X-rays indicate those two Aztecs will be sidelined only for a short period. BYU's Kyle Collinsworth is out with a concussion and center James Anderson has a shoulder separation.

Alford said his Lobos used their midway break to recover from a lot of bumps and bruises. He says another change in the Cowboys is more use of man-to-man pressure. The Lobos had a long look at the Wyoming zone in Laramie. Wyoming and TCU are sharing the MWC cellar at 1-8.

"Our league, it's crazy," said Gary. "Wyoming's record isn't that good, but they play hard and they take teams down to the wire. Their record doesn't give them justice on the way they play."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.