Feb. 3, 2009
Tuesday: Lobos 86, Wyoming 57
Up Next: Lobos vs. UNLV, 6 p.m., Saturday, The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
If there was a fire marshal in The Pit Tuesday night, he was either sleeping or simply not doing his job. If he had been paying attention, he would have removed Chad Toppert and the Lobos from the Bob King floor.
Toppert was smoking. The Lobos were on fire.
If the fireman simply had been compassionate, he would have removed the Wyoming Cowboys. On this night, they didn't belong on the same court as the Lobos. The Cowboys couldn't have cooled off the Lobos with a fire extinguisher and a bucket of ice water. UNM won 86-57.
"I thought Chad was a tremendous key for us," said Lobos coach Steve Alford. "We got stagnant a little bit and there aren't too many guys in the country better at busting a zone than Chad."
The Lobos won this Mountain West game in the first half when Toppert and the Lobos went on a 30-to-10 run over the final 10:51, hitting 11-of-15 shots. Toppert went 4-of-4 from behind the line during that stretch and finished with 15 first-half points. UNM took a 41-20 lead into the break. "That made it really hard on them," said Alford of his team's 21-point lead.
"I've been shooting the ball pretty well in practice," said Toppert, a 6-foot-7 senior. "Each time I let it go, it felt really good. Even the ones I missed felt real good. It's an awesome feeling, especially in front of The Pit crowd."
The win pushed UNM to 14-9 on the year and 5-3 in the MWC at the halfway point of the league race. "There's a big difference between 5-3 and 4-4," said Alford. "We're going into the second half no worse than second place. They (Lobos) are starting to believe that we're as good as anybody in this league and I believe that, too."
Said Toppert: "We feel good about where we sit and our chances. We have a really good team capable of finishing first."
The Lobos' five MWC wins have come with a 21.6-point scoring margin. The Lobos probably have played to a 7-1 MWC mark, but the lack of a finish in at least two games helped hand UNM three road losses. The Lobos definitely finished the Cowboys on Tuesday night.
Wyoming played a bit better on offense for about 14 minutes of the second half, but only kept pace with the Lobos. With 7:50 to play, UNM was up 63-44 -- 19 points. But the Lobos stayed focused and just drifted away to the impressive 86-57 final.
"I thought our defense was really good tonight," said Alford. "It was a really good performance by a lot of guys tonight. Young guys hit the wall or they get better.
"It's easy to get stagnant and have bad practices and go through the motions. Our guys haven't done that. The intensity has been there. There are not a lot of complaints tonight."
Said Dairese Gary: "In practice, you can see the determination, just how hard we go at each other. The time we are in the gym, we are working hard. If you don't play with emotion, you shouldn't be playing basketball."
The Lobos' stat lines were impressive against Wyoming: 20 assists to eight turnovers, six steals, 15-of-17 from the free throw line, 30-of-58 from the field (51.7 percent), and UNM outrebounded Wyoming 36-to-25.
Toppert was the game's high scorer with 17 points and he was joined in double figures by Roman Martinez with 15, Tony Danridge with 11 and Daniel Faris with 11 points. Faris had eight rebounds, Danridge added six and Martinez pulled down five boards. Gary, Nate Garth and Jonathan Wills each had five assists. Martinez added four steals.
Wyoming's Brandon Ewing, the conference's leading scorer, finished with 13 points, but nine of his points came on 3-pointers in the final 3:28.
"I thought the job we did on him (Ewing) was as good as he's seen all year," said Alford. "We limited his touches, limited his shot attempts. I thought our defense was really good tonight."
The 20-point total was the lowest half for Wyoming all season. The 'Pokes shot 33.3 percent in the first 20 minutes to 55.2 percent for UNM.
The Lobos used good defensive pressure early in the game to jump to a 9-3 lead at the first media timeout at 15:43. The Cowboys were 1-6 from the field to 4-of-8 for the Lobos. UNM came out of the break and got a savage dunk by Danridge to take an 11-3 lead.
Wyoming then did a lot of sputtering on offense. The Cowboys came down and had a shot-clock violation followed by a Ewing palm/carry. Wyoming then had a travel followed by another travel. The four straight turnovers convinced Wyoming to call a timeout. The good news for Wyoming was the score was still 11-3. UNM failed to convert on any of the four miscues and Wyoming finally scored to make it 11-5 going into the 11:50 media break.
Wyoming converted a UNM turnover at 11:11 into a Ewing trey and the Pokes were down 11-10. The visitors from Laramie never got any closer. The Lobos then went on a run behind Toppert's long-range bombs. His hot touch seemed to spread confidence in all the UNM shooters.
His first bomb put UNM up 18-12. Toppert threw in another one to make it 21-14 and then threw in one more from the baseline to make it 24-14 at the 7:10 mark. UNM then went up 29-14 on a, you guesed it, Toppert trey. UNM had made seven of its last eight shots. At the 5:35 break, UNM was shooting 12-of-22 from the field and 5-of-9 from 3-point range with Toppert 4-of-4.
The Lobos continued to dominate and pull away from Wyoming. Toppert and Wills closed out the scoring for UNM with back-to-back treys. Toppert from about 26 feet and Wills from the baseline. UNM pulled into the break with its 41-20 lead.
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