Lobos Travel to Cal for NIT First Round
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/17/2008
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

March 17, 2008

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The University of New Mexico (24-8) returns to the postseason for the 28th time when it visits the Cal Bears (16-15) in the first round of the 2008 MasterCard NIT.

Tipoff is 9 p.m. Mountain Time from Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. The game will be televised by ESPN2 Live audio is available via All Access at golobos.com.

New Mexico is the No. 5 seed in this 8-team side of the 32-team bracket. Cal is No. 4. The Lobos-Bears winner will face the winner of Ohio State and UNC Asheville in the second round.

The Lobos, 8-2 in their last 10 games, were the No. 3 seed in last week's Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas. UNM fell to No. 6 seed Utah 82-80 in overtime in the quarterfinals.

Cal beat Washington 84-81 in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles, before falling to top seed UCLA 88-66 in the quarterfinals. The Bears won the 1999 NIT title.

Picked to finish 4th in the MWC preseason poll, the Lobos produced their most league wins (11-5) in nine years as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The 11 conference victories are the most by UNM in 10 years, since getting 11 in the Western Athletic Conference in 1998.

New Mexico and Air Force were the only two teams in the MWC to finish higher that what was predicted in the preseason poll. The poll said 4th for UNM, but it finished 3rd. Air Force was 5th after the poll said 8th.

The Bears have a 3-1 lead in the series:
Dec. 22, 1969 Cal 83, New Mexico 69 at Berkeley
Dec. 5, 1970 New Mexico 82, Cal 62 at Albuquerque
Nov. 28, 2001 Cal 71. New Mexico 62 at Berkeley
Nov. 23, 2002 Cal 76, New Mexico 68 at Albuquerque

This is the 28th postseason appearance - 11 NCAA and 17 NIT - all have come in the past 45 seasons, since 1963-64.

New Mexico has been in the NIT 16 previous times, including seven straight appearances between 1984-90. UNM has a 16-17 record.

The Lobos' top two showings came in 1964 when they finished second to Bradley and fourth place in 1990. The Lobos came within an eyelash of advancing to New York in 1988, '89, '92 and 2001, losing in the quarterfinals.

The last appearance was 2002 when the Lobos lost at Minnesota in the first round, 96-62.

New Mexico has played 19 NIT games in The Pit where it is 13-6 and has won 8 straight games. The last loss was to St. Louis in the 1989 quarterfinals.

The Lobos have never won a true road game in the NIT, having lost all five contests. The last win in the NIT away from Albuquerque was a neutral-court victory over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in 1967.

What has happened in the past 4-plus months has been difficult for even the most optimistic Lobo fan to imagine. But first, a look back:

New head coach Steve Alford inherited four returning starters from a somewhat unpredictable bunch that finished 15-17 in 2006-07, just the program's 2nd losing season in the past 24 years. Picked to finish 5th in the MWC, New Mexico was 4-12 in the Mountain West, tying TCU for last place. The Lobos lost 12 conference games for the first time since 1959, and were 2-12 away from The Pit, 1-10 in true road games.

On Oct. 4, 2007, one of the team's returning starters - senior wing Tony Danridge - broke his leg and would miss the 2007-08 season. The steady Danridge was a three-year starter who averaged 12.5 points as a junior and was expected to be a tremendous complement to J.R. Giddens on the perimeter.

Now, to the present. With essentially the same players as last year, except for starting freshman point guard Dairese Gary, Alford's first Lobo team enters the NIT with a 24-8 record, having tied the school mark for wins during the regular season and a 9-win improvement from a year ago. Picked to finish 4th in the MWC, the Lobos went from worst to 3rd by closing the conference season with 8 wins in 9 games. UNM has won 8 road games, tying a program record and equaling the total for the past five seasons (8-43) combined.

The past 23 games, only one starter from last year - Giddens - has been in the starting lineup. Giddens has been unworldly and the consummate teammate in his final collegiate season. Gary has been a steadying influence at the point. Heady sophomore Roman Martinez has probably made more non-box score plays than anyone on the team. Junior post Daniel Faris has stepped up when UNM has needed him the most. Two returning starters - senior guards Darren Prentice and Jamaal Smith along with 3-pointer marksman Chad Toppert - average nearly 27 points off the bench.

Even Alford has been mildly shocked at the response from his team and the slightly unexpected results from a season that has been a wonderful ride.

HEAD COACH Steve Alford
Steve Alford was named UNM's 19th head coach on March 23, 2007, after spending eight seasons at the University of Iowa.

Alford is 332-191 (63%) into his 17th season. His teams have qualified for postseason play 11 times, produced 13 winning seasons and reached 20 wins on nine occasions.

Alford needs one win to match the most wins in his NCAA Div. I coaching career. His 2005-06 Iowa team went 25-9.

Alford is facing Cal for the first time in his career. He is in the postseason NIT for the 5th time where he has a 2-4 record.

In eight seasons at Iowa, Alford compiled a 152-106 record with a school-record seven consecutive winning seasons, and six postseason appearances. The Hawkeyes won two Big Ten Conference tournament titles (2001 and `06). Iowa was 17-14 in 2006-07. It was 9-7 in the Big Ten, tied with NCAA teams Illinois and Purdue for fourth place.

Prior to Iowa, Alford posted a 78-29 record in four seasons (1992-95) at NCAA Division III Manchester (Ind.) College and a four-year (1996-99) record of 78-48 at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State). The Bears defeated Wisconsin and Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16 of the 1999 NCAA Tournament before losing to top-ranked Duke in the regional semifinals. In 1997 Alford led the Bears to a 24-9 record (second in the Missouri Valley Conference) and a trip to the National Invitation Tournament.

In somewhat of a rarity, Alford has never been anything but a head coach at the collegiate level. His first position came at Manchester at the age of 27.

Steve Alford has set a school record for most wins by a New Mexico head coach in his rookie season. Dave Bliss was 22-11 in 1988-89. The most wins by an Alford-coached team at the NCAA Div. I level is 25 at Iowa in 2005-06. His 1994-95 Manchester (Ind.) squad went 31-1 in NCAA Div. III.

The 24 victories ties for the most by a New Mexico team during the regular season. Norm Ellenberger's 1977-78 Lobos were 24-3 heading into the NCAA Tournament while Dave Bliss' 1995-96 team was 24-4 going into the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

After going 8-43 in true road games - played on the opponents' home floor - the past five seasons (2003-07), UNM is 8-5 this year, which ties a school record set three previous times: 8-4 in 1972-73, 8-2 in 1977-78 and 8-3 in 1995-96.

The MWC record for road wins is eight as well set by UNLV in 2006-07 and Air Force in 2003-04, and equaled by BYU this season.

UNM finished the season with 4 straight conference road games for the first time since a 5-game run in 1998.

New Mexico is currently a +9 in wins from last year. That figure ranks as the 5th-biggest improvement in school history. It took New Mexico only 20 games to surpass last year's victory total (15-17) and UNM nearly tripled last year's wins in conference play (4-12).

The Lobos were a +7 in conference games in 2007-08, which is the 2nd-greatest jump of all-time and an argument could be made it's the best ever.

During World War II - when schedules were abbreviated - UNM fashioned a 3-0 record in the Border Conference in 1944 with all three wins coming against Texas Tech. The Lobos improved to 12-0 in 1945 for an improvement of +9.

• Through games of Sunday, March 16, the Lobos were 1st in the nation in 3-point accuracy at 42.51%...IUPUI is 2nd at 42.0%

• The Lobos have had 10 or fewer turnovers 16 times this year, and it happened 11 times in MWC games...UNM averaged just 10.5 turnovers in MWC play, 8.9 in the last 9 games, and it finished 1st in the conference with a turnover margin of +5.6

• In all games, the Lobos lead the MWC in scoring (74.4 ppg), scoring margin (+12.3), 3-point FGs (8.32 pg) and 3-point percentage (42.6%)...UNM's 3-point shooting would be the 2nd-best in school history were it to hold up for the entire season

• In MWC games only, New Mexico led the league in scoring (72.9 ppg), scoring margin (+9.4), 3-point FGs made (8.5), 3-point FG pct. (43.0%), turnover margin (+5.63) and assist/turnover ratio (1.54)

• Opponents are shooting just 40.8% from the floor against UNM...were it to stand for the rest of the season, that percentage would rank as the 4th-lowest by a Lobo team in the past 43 years

• More defense: opponents are averaging 62,5 points a game, a figure that would be the lowest since the 1983-84 squad allowed 59.2 ppg

• New Mexico has set a school record by playing 5 overtime games in a season...UNM is 3-2

• The Lobos' record by month: 7-0 in November; 5-2 in December; 4-3 in January; 6-2 in February and 2-1 in March

• UNM has won 20 games in a season for the 21st time...all have occurred since the 1963-64 season...Steve Alford has his 9th 20-win campaign in 16 full seasons as a head coach

• New Mexico is 16-2 at home this year, winning by an average margin of 20.2 points...the blemishes were a 72-67 loss to San Diego State, a game the Lobos led 24-10 in the first half and 33-25 at halftime, and 70-69 in overtime to BYU

• Although UNM shot just 63.4% from the FT line in conference games, it made 81% of its charities (63-78) in crunch time (the last 3 minutes and in OT) in 16 MWC games

• New Mexico is 21-0 this season when holding opponents to less than 70 points and 20- when leading at halftime

• UNM has won 21 straight games when holding opponents to less than 60 points

• New Mexico is 11-1 when J.R. Giddens and junior Chad Toppert - the team's leading scorers - each reach double figures in scoring, but 13-7 when they don't

Dairese Gary has established himself as one of the top freshman point guards in school history...he has started 27 games, the most by a UNM freshman point guard since John Robinson II started 30 in 1998-99...with 102 assists, Gary has become just the 5th Lobo freshman to record 100 in a season, joining Phil Smith (176 in 1980-81), David Gibson (113 in 1994-95), Robinson II (162 in 1998-99) and Marlon Parmer (115 in 1999-2000)...Gary also has 44 steals, second-most ever by a UNM freshman...Phil Smith had 47 in 1980-81

•The Lobos currently have two freshmen in the starting lineup in Dairese Gary and Jonathan Wills...Gary has started 28 games, Wills 16...the last time UNM freshmen had that many starts was in 2002-03 when David Chiotti (20), Jeff Hart (5), Mikal Monette (2) and Mark Walters (20) got the nod 47 times

Simply stated, senior J.R. Giddens has been getting it done on both ends of the floor the past few weeks.

• The perimeter-oriented Giddens is the first guard to lead the MWC in rebounding...he and Andrew Bogut (a 7-footer) are the only two players in the 9-year history of the league to lead the conference in scoring and rebounding in MWC games

• In 2008, Giddens posted single-game highs in the league for scoring (36 vs. Wyoming), rebounds (15 vs. UNLV) and steals (6 vs. Wyoming)

• The honors for J.R...Co-MWC PLayer of the Year; District VIII Player of the Year by the United States Basketball Writers Association, which encompasses teams from the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming; MWC Player of the Year by ESPN.com and first team all-district by the National Association of Basketball Coaches

•Despite ranking 9th in the league in minutes played at 32.0 minutes a game, Giddens is the only player in the MWC who ranks in the top-10 in the MWC in scoring, rebounding, FG pct., assists, steals and blocks

• Giddens is the only Lobo to ever reach 470 points, 250 rebounds, 90 assists, 40 steals and 30 blocks in a season

• Giddens was named MWC Player of the Week a record 5 times in 2007-08

•How much better is Giddens' overall game? It only took him 23 games to set personal season-highs for rebounds, assists, blocks and steals

• At UTEP on Jan. 2, Giddens fell 1 rebound short from becoming the first Lobo in 31 seasons to notch 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game...Jimmy Allen had 21 points and 20 boards in a 112-103 loss at New Mexico State on Dec. 1, 1976...Giddens scored 20 points and set career-highs with 19 rebounds and 7 assists in the overtime victory over the Miners...the 19 rebounds are the most in the MWC this season

The Lobos had sellout crowds of 18,018 in their last two home games against BYU and UNLV. The last time UNM had back-to-back sellouts was for Arizona and New Mexico State in November/December of 1996. The last time for consecutive sellouts in conference games was 1994 when Lobo fans bought every ticket for six straight games.

Average attendance for 18 home games in 2007-08 is 14,361, an increase of 1,508 per game over last year's average of 12,853. Provided there are no more home games, it would be the Lobos' highest average attendance in five years, since 14,679 in 2003-04.

Luke Nevill made all the plays down the stretch despite playing with four fouls over the final 11 1/2 minutes and the Utah Utes put a crimp in New Mexico's NCAA plans with an 82-80 overtime victory over the Lobos in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals.

Nevill scored 26 points, including a slam dunk with 21 seconds left that put the Utes ahead 81-80. The 7-foot Australian then rejected a shot by 6-1 guard Darren Prentice as he circled into the lane. Lawrence Borha got the outlet pass for Utah and was fouled with 5.6 seconds left. He sank one of two free throws, leaving the Lobos with time to tie it or even win it on a 3-pointer.

J.R. Giddens, who led New Mexico with 28 points and 17 rebounds, darted right past the three-point line and put up a runner that rimmed out at the buzzer.

The Utes had a chance to avoid overtime after Chad Toppert's two free throws tied it at 72 with 13 seconds left in regulation. But Luke Drca threw it away with 1.5 seconds left and Jamaal Smith's desperation heave from three-quarters court was way short.

Nevill picked up his fourth foul with 6:31 left in regulation but never fouled out even though a couple of times he went hard to the basket and might easily have been whistled for the charge.

Lawrence Bohra added 13 points for the Utes, Shaun Green had 12 and Johnny Bryant 11. For the Lobos, Dairese Gary had 14, Roman Martinez 12, Smith 11 and Toppert 10.

The Lobos jumped out to a nine-point lead in the opening minutes but trailed by 11 with 10 minutes to go in regulation before their furious comeback fell short.

• The Lobos and Utes play overtime for the 4th time in the past 5 meetings between the two teams

• UNM had won 23 straight games (21-0 this season) when shooting better than its opponent

• The Lobos trailed 70-62 with 4:14 left in regulation, but outscored the Utes 10-2 to force overtime at 72-all

• New Mexico has now lost in the 1st round of the MWC Tournament 6 of the past 7 years and 7 times in 9 MWC seasons overall

• UNM was out-rebounding teams by 3 a game, but Utah had a 38-30 edge tonight, the Lobos' largest deficit in 12 games, since 42-34 at BYU on Jan. 26

• UNM had a 32-25 lead after a J.R. Giddens dunk with 5:14 left in the 1st half, but Utah closed with a 15-5 run to take a 40-37 halftime lead...the Lobos did not regain the lead again until there was 2:23 to go in overtime when 2 free throws by J.R. Giddens gave UNM a 78-77 advantage

Senior J.R. Giddens
• 28 points and 17 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season and 6th against MWC competition this year; played 44 of a possible 45 minutes
• moves into a tie with Willie Long (1970-71) for 12th place on the UNM single-season list with 277 rebounds

Freshman Dairese Gary
• 14 points and 4 assists; made his first 5 shots from the floor and finished 5 of 6
• scored UNM's first 8 points and 10 of its first 14
• 4 assists, giving him 102 for the season; is the 5th Lobo freshman to reach 100 assists in a season

Sophomore Roman Martinez
• 12 points with 9 coming in the 2nd half

Senior Jamaal Smith
• 11 points on 2-6 FGs and 7-8 FTs
• averaged 13.3 points in 3 games against Utah this season

Junior Chad Toppert
• 10 points on 2-5 shots from 3-point and 4-4 FTs
• 18-of-32 from 3-point in last 5 games against Utah
• has made 84 3-pointers this season, No. 8 in the UNM record book