April 23, 2008
The University of New Mexico's 105th season of basketball ended March 19 with a tough 68-66 loss at Cal in the 1st round of the MasterCard NIT. Despite falling in its last two games, the Lobos had a remarkable turnaround under rookie head coach Steve Alford, posting a 24-9 overall record. That was a 9-win improvement from the previous season.
What happened during the 2007-08 season had to have been difficult for even the most optimistic Lobo fan to imagine.
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.
With essentially the same players as last year, except for starting freshman point guard Dairese Gary, Alford's first Lobo team finished 24-9, tying the school mark for wins during the regular season and a 9-win improvement from a year ago. UNM won 8 road games, tying a program record and equaling the entire total for the previous five seasons (8-43).
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. 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 final 25 games, only one starter from last year - Giddens - was in the starting lineup. Giddens was unworldly and the consummate teammate in his final collegiate season. Gary was a steadying influence at the point. Heady sophomore Roman Martinez probably made more non-box score plays than anyone on the team while junior post Daniel Faris stepped up when UNM needed him the most. Two returning starters - senior guards Darren Prentice and Jamaal Smith along with 3-pointer marksman Chad Toppert - averaged more than 26 points off the bench.
Even Alford was mildly shocked at the response from his team and the slightly unexpected results from a season that turned into a wonderful ride.
Alford is 332-192 (63%) after 17 seasons. His teams have qualified for postseason play 11 times, produced 13 winning seasons and reached 20 wins on nine occasions.
In just his first year at UNM, Alford came within one victory of matching the most wins in his NCAA Div. I coaching career. His 2005-06 Iowa team went 25-9.
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.
THREE-YEAR EXTENSION FOR ALFORD
University of New Mexico Vice-President for Athletics Paul Krebs announced March 31 that a contract extension has been agreed to in principal with head coach Steve Alford. Alford recently finished the first of a six-year contract at UNM. The three-year extension will keep him on the Lobo sidelines through the 2015-16 season.
"This shows our commitment to Coach Alford and his commitment to the University of New Mexico," stated Krebs. "He is going to be our coach for the foreseeable future and we are very excited with the direction of our basketball program."
Alford guided the Lobos to a third place finish in the Mountain West Conference and a 24-9 record. Most impressive about 2007-08 was it done with basically the same group that finished the 2006-07 season tied for last in the MWC at 4-12 and a 15-17 overall record.
"This is another example of what I have said all along - that I am committed to being a Lobo," stated Alford. "I would like to thank UNM President Dr. David Schmidly and Vice-President for Athletics Paul Krebs for showing their support of the job my staff and I have done to this point. With the upcoming renovations to The Pit and our success in year one, we are well on our way to making Lobo basketball a big-time program again."
RECORD-SETTING SEASON FOR ALFORD
Steve Alford 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.
UNM TIES RECORD FOR REGULAR-SEASON VICTORIES
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.
LOBOS TIE RECORD FOR ROAD GAME WINS
After going 8-43 in true road games - played on the opponents' home floor - the previous five seasons (2003-07), UNM went 8-6 in 2007-08, tying a school record set three other times: 8-4 in 1972-73, 8-2 in 1977-78 and 8-3 in 1995-96. UNM finished the season with 4 straight conference road triumphs for the first time since a 5-game run in 1998.
The MWC record for road wins is eight as well set by UNLV in 2006-07, Air Force in 2003-04, and equaled by BYU this season.
ROAD STREAKS SNAPPED
Three long losing streaks were broken in 2007-08. On Jan. 5, the Lobos won 99-92 in double overtime at Wyoming, ending a 10-game losing skid to the Cowboys in Laramie.
UNM had lost 7 in a row at Air Force before grounding the Falcons 68-51 on Feb. 20. Three days later, an unsightly 18-game drought came to a halt in Salt Lake City as New Mexico pulled off a 72-71 victory over Utah. It was the Lobos' first win against the Utes at the Huntsman Center since 1989.
HISTORIC IMPROVEMENT MADE
New Mexico was 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 jumped to 12-0 in 1945 for an improvement of +9.
UNM held opponents to just 41.0% shooting from the floor. That's the 4th-lowest surrendered by a Lobo team in the past 43 years. Opponents averaged 62.7 points a game, the 2nd-lowest since 1983-84.
-District VIII Player of the Year by the United States Basketball Writers Association
-MWC Player of the Year by ESPN.com
-1st team all-district by the National Association of Basketball Coaches
-Associated Press honorable mention All-America
NEW MEXICO IN POSTSEASON
The Lobos have now made 28 postseason appearances - 11 NCAA and 17 NIT - and all have come in the past 45 seasons, since 1963-64. UNM has advanced to postseason play 20 times in the past 25 seasons, since 1983-84.
LOBOS IN THE NIT
New Mexico has been in the NIT 17 times, including seven straight appearances between 1984-90. UNM has a 16-18 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.
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 six contests. The last win in the NIT away from Albuquerque was a neutral-court victory over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in 1967.
DEADEYE FROM LONG RANGE
The Lobos finished 2nd in the nation in 3-point accuracy at 42.0%, converting 271 of 646 attempts. IUPUI was 1st at 42.3%.
UNM's 3-point shooting is the 2nd-best in school history. The 1988-89 Lobos hold the record at 43.3%, however, that squad was just 157 of 362 from beyond the arc.
LOSSES HARD TO SWALLOW
New Mexico's last three losses came by a combined total of 5 points: 70-69 in OT to BYU, 82-80 in overtime to Utah in the MWC Championship and 68-66 at Cal in the 1st round of the NIT. UNM had a chance to tie or win each of the three games in the final seconds, but couldn't get a shot to fall.
PROTECTING THE BALL
The Lobos finished 1st in the MWC with a turnover margin of +5.6 in MWC games. They had 10 or fewer turnovers 16 times, and it happened 11 times in 16 MWC games. UNM averaged just 10.5 turnovers in MWC play, and 8.9 in the last 9 games.
In all games, the Lobos led the MWC in scoring (74.1 ppg), scoring margin (+11.4), 3-point FGs (8.21 pg) and 3-point percentage (42.0%).
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).
UNM REACHES 20 WINS AGAIN
New Mexico won 20 games in a season for the 21st time. All have occurred since the 1963-64 season. Steve Alford got his 9th 20-win campaign in 16 full seasons as a head coach.
DOMINANT IN THE PIT
New Mexico was 16-2 at home, 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.
LOBO BULLET NOTES
GARY IMPRESSIVE IN LOBO DEBUT
Dairese Gary established himself as one of the top freshman point guards in school history. He started 27 games, the most by a UNM freshman point guard since John Robinson II started 30 in 1998-99. Dishing 105 assists, Gary is 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 had 44 steals, second-most ever by a UNM freshman. Phil Smith had 47 in 1980-81. Gary was the only freshman in the MWC who ranked in the top-10 in assists (8th) and steals (10th).
FRESHMEN GET PLAYING TIME
The Lobos had two true freshmen in the starting lineup in Dairese Gary and Jonathan Wills. Gary started 28 games, Wills 17, which is the first time in program history that a pair of true freshmen started at least 17 games in a 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 was 14,361, an increase of 1,508 per game over last year's average of 12,853. It's the Lobos' highest average attendance in five years, since 14,679 in 2003-04.
The Lobos enjoyed a tremendous season even without one of their best players. Senior Tony Danridge suffered a broken left fibula during a game with teammates on Oct. 4, 2007. He had surgery on Oct. 8 and missed the entire season. Danridge does have a redshirt year available.
A 6-5 senior from San Bernardino, Calif., Danridge averaged 12.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 2006-07 and was named 3rd team All-MWC. He was the only Lobo to play in all 95 games over the past three seasons, not missing a game during his Lobo career.
CAL RECAP AND POSTGAME NOTES
Jamal Boykin made two free throws with 3.7 seconds left, Ryan Anderson scored 26 points and California held off New Mexico 68-66 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. DeVon Hardin added 10 points and six rebounds, Jerome Randle scored 11 and Boykin 10 as the Golden Bears made 22 of 31 free throws and shot 48 percent.
J.R. Giddens had 26 points, 13 rebounds and six assists for the Lobos. Giddens scored over Patrick Christopher with 51.2 seconds left to tie the game, then Anderson missed two free throws at 36.2. After Boykin made his free throws, Giddens missed from just inside the 3-point line as the final buzzer sounded. Giddens shot 8-for-14 but also missed two free throws off the front of the rim with 1:41 to play that could have tied the game.
The Bears came out energized and pushed the ball at every chance to score easy baskets and get breakaway dunks. But a small crowd of only 1,906 fans came out to see it.
Cal used a 19-5 run late in the first half on the way to a 37-29 lead at the break despite going 2-for-10 from 3-point range. The Lobos went 5 minutes without scoring during one stretch.
Senior J.R. Giddens
26 points and 13 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season and 3rd in the last 4 games..also had 6 assists and 2 steals in 39 minutes
54 points, 30 rebounds and 7 assists in his final 2 collegiate games
averaged 22.6 points and 9.5 rebounds in his final 11 games at UNM
finished his senior season with 537 points (16.3 ppg), 290 rebounds (8.8 rpg), 103 assists, 47 steals and 39 blocks
IT WAS A REAL T.E.A.M.
Some interesting facts about the 10-man Lobos team:
And, since everyone played the Lobo bench has made huge contributions. UNM's reserves scored 36.1% (884 of 2,446) of the points and pulled down 32.9% (333 of 1,013) of the individual rebounds. Those were averages of 26.8 points and 10.1 rebounds.
HOLDING DOWN SOME OF THE BIG GUNS
New Mexico really put the clamps on the opponents' top scorers in several games:
3-POINT RECORD FALLS
The Lobos' 81.8% (9-11) accuracy from 3-point against Texas Tech is a school record and it tied the Mountain West Conference record (San Diego State - Dec. 15, 2006). The previous UNM record was 72.2% (13-18) vs. San Francisco State in 2003.
TOPPERT NO. 1 FROM 3
Junior Chad Toppert will enter his senior year holding the top spot as UNM's most accurate 3-point shooter. He has made 45.66% (184-403) of his tries. Toppert was 1st in the league in 3-point accuracy (48.0%) and 3rd in treys per game (2.58 a game).
A REAL PEACH BASKET START
In New Mexico's 59-44 win over Air Force on Jan. 19, the score was 0-0 until the 14:42 mark of the first half. That's when J.R. Giddens got a steal and a breakaway layin. The basket came on the Lobos' 9th possession of the game.
Air Force's first points came shortly thereafter at the 14:10 mark on a 3-pointer by Andrew Henke. The Falcons missed their first 5 shots, got the 3-pointer from Henke, then missed their next 9 to start 1 of 15 from the floor.
When the Lobos beat Wyoming 99-92 in double overtime on Jan. 5, they staged the largest second-half comeback in a road game in school history. UNM trailed 48-32 at halftime. It ranks as the 5th largest deficit overcome regardless of location. New Mexico's largest comeback was Jan. 15, 1993, at Hawai'i when it rallied from 20 points (31-11) to win 61-58.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
The Lobos began the New Year in style by doing something it had never done before: prevailing in consecutive overtime games, and on the road no less.
UNM squeaked past a fired-up UTEP squad 86-85 in overtime on Jan. 2. That was followed by a grind-it-out 99-92 double-overtime victory at Wyoming on Jan. 5, the Lobos' first win over the Cowboys at the Arena-Auditorium since 1995. New Mexico trailed Wyoming 48-32 at halftime, so it marked the largest second-half comeback on the road in school history.
SUPERLATIVES IN O-T WIN AT UTEP
The Lobos established some new standards in the 86-85 OT win over UTEP on Jan. 2:
BIG-TIME DEFENSE AGAINST WEBER STATE
New Mexico side-swiped Weber State 62-32 at home on Dec. 23. The 32 points ties for the fewest by a Lobo opponent in The Pit, which opened in December of 1966. UNM beat BYU 74-32 on Feb. 3, 1997.
It also ties for the fewest points allowed by a Steve Alford-coached team during his 17-year coaching career. On March 12, 1999, Alford's Southwest Missouri State squad beat Wisconsin 43-32 in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament in Charlotte N.C.
It was 34-12 UNM at halftime. The 12 points are the fewest by a UNM opponent in the first half since Dec. 29, 1972, when the Lobos had a 40-9 halftime lead over Dartmouth.
IT'S A FIRST FOR LOBO HOOPS
For the first time since the 3-point shot was introduced into college basketball before the 1986-87 season, UNM canned at least 13 3-pointers in three straight games. The historic feat came during the Basketball Travelers Invitational when the Lobos were 13 of 28 against Presbyterian, 13 of 28 against St. Bonaventure and 13 of 26 against Loyola Marymount. That's a 47.6% clip for the 3-game tournament.
3s AND COUNTING
UNM has made a 3-pointer in 581 straight games, the 11th-longest active streak in NCAA Div. I. UNLV is 1st at more than 700 games. The last time UNM failed to connect from long range was Jan. 3, 1991, missing on 8 attempts against Colorado State in The Pit.
The 28 assists in the 92-57 win over Eastern Washington is UNM's highest total in 10 years, since it had 32 in a 112-61 victory over Holy Cross on Dec. 29, 1997. The Lobos averaged 16.3 assists a game compared to 15.1 in 2006-07.
UNM ALL-TIME IN THE MWC
New Mexico has a 63-69 record in the Mountain West Conference, 45-21 in The Pit and 17-48 on the road. UNM is 12-40 in league road games since 2001, 7-37 through 2006, but 5-3 this season.
SEASON NO. 105
The 2007-08 season was the 105th in school history. The Lobos first laced up the hightops on Feb. 2, 1900, when they lost 8-6 to the Albuquerque Guards. While 2007-08 was actually the 106th anniversary of the inaugural year, UNM did not field a team for various reasons in 1900-01, 1903-04, 1917-18 and 1920-21.
UNM has played continuously since 1921-22, compiling an all-time record of 1,288-1,006 (.560). New Mexico was 420-498 (.457) from 1900-62, but has gone 868-508 (.631) over the past 46 seasons, an average of nearly 19 wins per year.
UNM has made 28 trips to postseason, including 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and 17 showings in the NIT.
NEW NAMES AND FACES GREETED THE LOBOS
In what had to be a first in the history of Lobo basketball, UNM played 17 regular-season games against 11 teams that had first-year head coaches. The list:
Jeff Bzdelik - Colorado
Kirk Earlywine - Eastern Washington
Mark Schmidt - St. Bonaventure
Hawaii - Bob Nash*
Southern Utah - Roger Reid
New Mexico State - Marvin Menzies*
San Diego - Bill Grier*
Wyoming - Heath Schroyer
Air Force - Jeff Reynolds
Utah - Jim Boylen*
Colorado State - Tim Miles
*1st head coaching position
42ND SEASON IN THE PIT
One of college basketball's most famous and recognizable buildings, University Arena is the home of New Mexico basketball.
The 2007-08 season was the 42nd year that University Arena has served as home for Lobo hoops. The first game was played on Dec. 1, 1966, with New Mexico beating Abilene Christian 62-53. A total of 740 games have been played overall. The Lobos have come away the victor in 598 of those - good for a stunning .808 winning percentage.
What is even more impressive about UNM's home court is that more than 11.5 million fans have flocked into this sunken edifice to see their beloved Lobos play basketball. The Lobos have averaged 15,559 fans the past 42 years, an amazing 95% of capacity.
The Lobos have finished second in the nation in attendance five times, third on four occasions and fourth six times.
UNM hosted NCAA men's basketball tournament action nine times, including the NCAA Championship in 1983 and the 1988 McDonald's High School All-American basketball game.
The Pit is built in a 37-foot hole on Albuquerque's southeast mesa. First the roof was constructed, then the hole was dug and the Arena built. That all happened in 1966. The unique Behlen roof (338 by 300 feet) was set up by contractors and then 55,000 cubic yards of earth were removed. About 28,000 yards of concrete were poured in the initial construction, which allowed a seating capacity of 14,831. The cost - an incredibly economical $1.4 million.
Arena expansion was undertaken when it became apparent that fan interest was too great even for the original structure. The expansion in 1975 cost near $2.2 million and involved the extension of a cantilevered deck above the existing facility. There are six rows in the deck, with a seating capacity of 2,300. Reserved standing-room-only spots increase The Pit's capacity to 18,018.
PIT TO GET BIG-TIME MAKEOVER
Major renovations to The Pit could start late in 2008. The cost of the project could range from $50-60 million. The University of New Mexico Board of Regents recently gave preliminary approval for a $20-25 million bond. The rest of the funding will come from the state and private sources. Gov. Bill Richardson pledged funding for Pit renovations in January of 2006. The venerable arena opened Dec. 1, 1966. All renovations in the past 40 years have been limited to locker rooms and offices. Although specific details are being finalized, the scope of work is expected to include the following:
new entrances, ticket office and novelty store
new men's and women's locker rooms
expanding the north, east and west concourses to allow for the construction of new restrooms and concession stands
building suites on the mezzanine level of the east and west sides
connecting the Davalos Center to The Pit
possibility of adding a third floor to the north end of the arena for a restaurant
SEASON TICKETS SURPASS 10,000
Season tickets climbed above 10,000 for the first time since the 2003-04 season when UNM sold 10,598. The final count for 2007-08 is 10,096. UNM sold at least 10,000 season tickets for 30 consecutive seasons between 1974-75 and 2003-04.