March 7, 2008
The final game of the regular season is Saturday when New Mexico (23-7, 10-5 MWC) visits Colorado State (6-23, 0-15). Tipoff is 3:35 p.m. Mountain Time from Moby Arena in Fort Collins. The game will be televised live on The Mtn. with Rich Cellini and Larry Mangino calling the action. Live audio is available via All Access at golobos.com.
The Lobos, 7-1 in their last eight games, are in third place in the league after Tuesday's 59-45 victory over second-place UNLV. A win at Colorado State clinches the No. 3 seed for UNM in next week's MWC Tournament in Las Vegas. The No. 3 seed plays the No. 6 seed Thursday at 9:30 MDT.
One game ahead of San Diego State in the conference standings, New Mexico will either be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed regardless of its outcome at Colorado State. San Diego State is 9-6 and plays at Air Force Saturday afternoon at 1. The Aztecs win any tiebreaker with the Lobos since they split the season series with league champ BYU. The Lobos were swept by the Cougars.
A victory Saturday would also equal the most wins by a New Mexico team during the regular season. The 1977-78 Lobos were 24-3 heading into the NCAA Tournament while the 1995-96 team was 24-4 going into the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
The Lobos are coming off an emotional win over UNLV on Senior Night. Senior J.R. Giddens represented the upperclassmen well, recording 17 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists while playing all but the final 30 seconds of the game. New Mexico held the Runnin' Rebels to 33% shooting and their lowest point total of the season.
Colorado State lost 81-62 at Utah. CSU have lost 16 straight.
New Mexico has won 6 of the last 7 meetings against Colorado State, and 8 of 10 and 22 of the past 25. UNM is 9-2 in its last 11 games against the Rams in Fort Collins.
On Feb. 5 in Albuquerque, Chad Toppert came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points, leading New Mexico to a 91-51 win over CSU. UNM connected on 12 of 20 3-pointers as six different Lobos made 3s. The Lobos shot 54.2 percent from the field, while Colorado State hit just 17 of 50 attempts.
ROAD GAME RECORD POSSIBLE
After going 8-43 in true road games - played on the opponents' home floor - the past five seasons (2003-07), UNM is 7-5 this year. The school record for most true road wins is 8 on three occasions: 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. BYU could tie the mark as well this year if it wins Saturday at TCU.
UNM has won 3 straight conference road games for the first time since 2000. The last time the Lobos won 4 in a row was a 5-game run in 1998.
HISTORIC IMPROVEMENT BEING MADE
New Mexico is currently a +8 in wins from last year. That figure ranks as tied for 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 has also more than doubled last year's win total in conference play (4-12).
The Lobos are a +6 in conference games, 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.
RECORD-SETTING SEASON FOR Steve Alford
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.
LOBO BULLET NOTES
Alford is 331-190 (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 is 1-0 in his career against Colorado State.
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.
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.
NEW MEXICO-COLORADO STATE SERIES
It's game No. 103 in a series that started Dec. 22, 1940. UNM has a 61-41 lead. The Lobos have won 6 of 7, 8 of 10 and 22 of 25 against the Rams since Feb. 12, 1994. UNM has a 14-3 lead in MWC games and 36-4 in The Pit. UNM is 9-2 in its last 11 games against the Rams in Fort Collins.
UNM-CSU FEB. 5 IN ALBUQUERQUE
Chad Toppert came off the bench to score a fistful of 3-pointers, leading New Mexico to a 91-51 win over Colorado State. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Lobos dominated CSU with sharp shooting and relentless defense. New Mexico had connected on 10 of 13 3-pointers midway through the second half and finished 12-for-20 overall. The Lobos shot 54.2 percent from the field for the game, while Colorado State hit just 17 of 50 attempts.
Toppert led the Lobos with a career-high 22 points, going 5-for-9 from 3-point range. Six of his teammates contributed with at least one 3-pointer. J.R. Giddens added 19 points for the Lobos, while conference scoring leader Marcus Walker led the Rams with 11 points.
The Lobos opened with a 7-0 run, holding CSU scoreless for the first 3:16. New Mexico quickly extended the lead to 21-8 and led by double-digits for the rest of the game.
By the break, the Lobos were ahead 50-24. Toppert hit two 3-pointers in the final 1:15 of the first half as part of a 16-4 run leading to the break. It equaled the Lobos' largest halftime lead of the season.
New Mexico's Dairese Gary opened the second half with consecutive 3-pointers to spark a 15-0 surge that resulted in a 65-24 lead. The Rams didn't find the basket until 6:25 had passed in the second half.
Junior Chad Toppert
Senior J.R. Giddens
Junior Johnnie Harris
Freshman Dairese Gary
UNM-COLORADO STATE: LAST YEAR IN FORT COLLINS
Tony Danridge scored 24 points to lead New Mexico to a 70-66 win over Colorado State. Aaron Johnson had 13 rebounds and five points for New Mexico and J.R. Giddens added 14 points. The teams traded the lead 14 times. Chad Toppert's two free throws with 20 seconds left gave New Mexico a 70-66 lead. Jason Smith and Tyler Smith both missed 3-pointers in the last 15 seconds for Colorado State.
The Rams trailed 65-64 with 1:13 to go after two free throws by Cory Lewis. Toppert hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to put New Mexico up 68-64. Jason Smith hit two foul shots for CSU to pull to within 68-66 before Toppert hit his two foul shots to close out the scoring. Jason Smith led the Rams with 16 points.
UNLV RECAP AND POSTGAME NOTES
J.R. Giddens had 17 points and 15 rebounds in what was likely his final homecourt appearance, lifting New Mexico to a 59-45 win over UNLV. The Lobos snapped a four-game losing streak to UNLV and logged a key victory as they seek to improve their argument for receiving a possible at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.
Giddens was a force, collecting eight rebounds by halftime in his final homecourt appearance--barring a trip to the National Invitation Tournament. The Kansas transfer also had five assists and a steal. Fans in the student section chanted Giddens' name in the closing minutes, then "M.V.P" after the final horn, lobbying for Giddens to be named the Mountain West's player of the year.
UNLV point guard Wink Adams scored 12, four points below his average, but went scoreless in the second half. The Rebels shot 33 percent from the floor, hitting just 18-of-54.
UNLV had won four straight over New Mexico, including a 79-60 decision in Las Vegas on Feb. 2 when UNLV opened with a 21-5 run. The Lobos refused to let it happen again, forcing a grinding pace for a 24-22 halftime lead.
From there, New Mexico turned the tables, starting the second half with an 13-0 burst that stretched the lead to 37-24. The Rebels missed their first four field goal tries and had four turnovers after the break, and the capacity crowd of 18,018 fans was at full roar as Chad Toppert hit a 3-pointer to force a UNLV timeout.
"I appreciate what these three young men have done for us with their leadership, their toughness," Lobos coach Steve Alford said in a postgame ceremony. "That's what you need for building blocks in a new program."
After the Rebels cut the deficit to 43-33 at the 10-minute mark, Prentice threw a long pass to Giddens for a thunderous slam dunk that kept the fans standing and the crowd noise at full volume. Then, Roman Martinez collected a miss and banked it in to push New Mexico's lead to 47-33 with 7:44 remaining, and UNLV trailed 51-37 with 5 minutes to go when Smith drew the fourth and fifth fouls on Rebels point guard Wink Adams.
UNLV coach Lon Kruger was furious with the call, but his team never got the margin into double digits again.
With the victory, Alford set a school record for most wins by a first-year coach. Dave Bliss went 22-11 in his first season coaching the Lobos, back in 1988-89.
The Pit was sold out, just like a week earlier for an overtime loss to BYU. It marked the first consecutive sellouts since the Lobos faced Arizona and New Mexico State early in the 1996-97 season.
Senior J.R. Giddens
Junior Chad Toppert