March 18, 2009
Tuesday: Lobos 83, Nebraska 71
Up Next: Lobos at Notre Dame, 5 p.m. (Mt) Thursday
On The Air: ESPN2 (TV); 770-AM KKOB
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The luck of the Irish wasn't needed Tuesday in The Pit when Nebraska came for an NIT visit on St. Patrick's Day. It probably won't be available Thursday against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
The Lobos used their lucky charm called The Pit and career-high points (28) and rebounds (13) from Daniel Faris to beat Nebraska 83-71. The Lobos' reward is a quick trip to South Bend, Ind., for a second-round NIT game with the Fighting Irish at 5 p.m. (Mt) on Thursday.
This won't be an easy game.
"They are very good," said Lobo coach Steve Alford of the Irish. "They are out of the Big East and the Big East has been talked about all year.
"We're playing in their building and it's a good test for us. It's tough travel and we have to turnaround and play on Thursday. We understand that, but it's a great opportunity for us, too."
The Lobos flew out of Albuquerque Wednesday morning. They'll get in a short practice that night and try to hit the beds quickly. The Irish will be well rested.
"It will be who you are and what you do," said Alford referring to the short time for game planning against the Irish.
It will be interesting to see if Faris can fit into that "who you are, what you do" philosophy on Thursday as well as he did on Tuesday against the Cornhuskers.
The 6-foot-9 senior toyed with Nebraska like he was surrounded by height-challenged Leprechauns. And, in a way, he was. The Cornhuskers weren't so tall.
Faris won't be looking up at Notre Dame's 6-8 Luke Harangody on Thursday, but this 255-pound wide body is going to be a load that Faris might not be able to handle by himself.
The Irish junior was the Big East Player of The Year as a sophomore. He was First Team Big East this season and has made several All-America teams. You might call him The Beast from the Big East - and Faris knows it.
"He's one of the best players in the nation," said Faris. "I can't guard him alone; he's too good. My teammates need to help me. But I love playing against guys who are the best. It makes me bring it all that much more."
Said Alford: "I thought Daniel was terrific tonight. There aren't too many (centers) who had more success against them (Nebraska) than Daniel did."
Faris twice played against Utah's Luke Nevill, the Mountain West's Player of The Year, and Faris outplayed the Ute in both games.
But the Irish's Luke isn't as awkward and probably has a better arsenal on offense. He averaged 23 points and 11.9 rebounds a game. He scored 22 points in Notre Dame's 70-64 win over UAB in the Irish's first-round NIT win at home on Tuesday.
The Irish only had 2,039 for their game against UAB, but the school is expecting a bigger crowd for the Lobos. "Our crowd will be much fuller on Thursday," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.
The Lobos got help from a rowdy Pit crowd of 7,974 in their win over Nebraska. The Lobos jumped out to a 39-34 halftime lead and survived a couple of second-half runs by Nebraska before UNM pulled in with the 83-71 win.
Faris was joined in double figures by Tony Danridge with 18 points and Chad Toppert with 15 points. Roman Martinez added nine boards and Toppert had seven. Dairese Gary had seven assists and Danridge had five.
The Lobos out rebounded Nebraska 41-to-24 and shot 51.1 percent from the floor to 36.8 percent for the Huskers. The 83 points were the most Nebraska gave up this season. The Lobos did have 19 turnovers to 11 for the Huskers.
"That's five guards out there running around crazy for Nebraska," said Alford. "That's not easy."
The Lobos went up 39-26 on a Toppert trey in the first half before Nebraska went on an 8-0 run to pull to 39-34 at the half.
"It felt really good to get that first one out of the way," Toppert said of ending an 0-for-17 skid from behind the line. "My shot hadn't been feeling good for some reason, but I wasn't going to stop shooting."
The Lobos' expanded that five-point halftime lead to 12 points at the 16:44 mark when Faris flipped in a right-handed jump hook to push UNM up 48-36. A Faris tip produced a 50-36 Lobo lead at the 15:51 media timeout. The Lobos were on an 11-2 run.
The Lobos ran to a 19-point lead at 56-37 on a Phillip McDonald trey and 58-39 on a Faris jumper at 13:19. Nebraska cut the gap to eight several times and down to 74-67 with 2:09 to play.
"It was my last game in The Pit and win or lose, it's something you remember forever."
Lobo Daniel Faris who had career high points (28) and rebounds (13) in his final Pit game.
A key sequence late in the game came when a Nebraska trey rattled out of the bucket with the score 76-69. That miss led to Faris getting mugged under the bucket. He went to the line at 1:14 and made both shots to push UNM up 78-69.
The Huskers were using a full-court trap trying to squeeze out Lobo turnovers and a win, but the Lobos got their final 12 points at the free throw line to seal their NIT advancement.
It was time for Nebraska to start thinking about spring football. The Lobos get to think about the Irish.
"There are a lot of teams on spring break and not playing basketball," said Alford. "We want to take this journey as long as we can. It's a fun year."
Said Faris: "It was my last game in The Pit and win or lose, it's something you remember forever. I wanted to go out a winner."
For sure, Faris did that. You can say he saved his best Pit game for last. What the Lobos need next is for Faris to come up with his best road game ever.
The Beast from the Big East awaits.
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