Stevens: Lobos Win Key Stat Battles But Lose 68-62 To No. 6 Aztecs
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/16/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 16, 2011

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Lobo Men's Basketball - On The Mountain West Road
Wednesday: San Diego State 68, Lobos 62
Saturday: 7:30 p.m., Utah at Lobos -- The Pit

-By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In the toughness department, you probably throw a tie up on the scoreboard in San Diego State's Viejas Arena. The Lobos did not back off the No. 6 ranked San Diego State Aztecs.

In field goals made (22-to-21) and rebounds pulled down (37-33), give the edge to the Lobos.

However, when it came to depth in inside talent - and some timely rebounds off missed free throws -- the edge went to San Diego State, which stayed undefeated at home with a 68-62 Mountain West Conference win over the New Mexico Lobos.

Oh, yeah, there was another key stat: the home team shot 31 free throws and the visitors from Albuquerque shot 17.

"I thought that was the difference in the ballgame," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "We fought like crazy and came up short."

Actually, it was SDSU free throws missed that hurt the Lobos as much as SDSU free throws made.

The Lobos worked themselves into position to pull the upset when Dairese Gary hit two free throws with 1:20 to play that cut the Aztecs' lead to 58-54. A Gary jumper again pulled the Lobos to within four at 60-56 with 41.5 to play.

The Aztecs won the game at the line with a couple of free throws followed by back-to-back offensive boards on the second-shot misses. Two free throws by SDSU's Kawhi Leonard after his offensive board put the Aztecs up 64-56 with 27 seconds to go. The Aztecs rode that bulge to the 68-62 final.

"They beat us up (rebounding) in the first half," said Aztec coach Steve Fisher. "We got some big rebounds off missed free throws. We are getting better at things it takes to win."

The Aztecs did do the things necessary to win Wednesday night in San Diego - but not by much. "I really liked our effort," said Alford. "I thought we really battled. It wasn't a game in which we made a lot of shots, but it was better.

"I was really, really pleased. We get 40 minutes of effort like this and we'll be fine down the stretch. We're not going to win the league championship, but we still have a lot to play for."

The Lobos shot 41.7 percent from the floor to 40.4 percent for SDSU. The free-throw line obviously leaned toward the Aztecs, but the Lobos also hurt themselves with 17 turnovers to nine for SDSU.

The Lobos were led by Gary with 18 points. Freshman Tony Snell chipped in 14 points going 4-of-8 from long range and Drew Gordon muscled for 13 points and nine rebounds inside. A.J. Hardeman had nine points off the bench.

"I liked his energy tonight," Alford said of Hardeman. "His efficiency was a lot better tonight. We're a much better team when we have him playing at that level."

The Aztecs got 22 points from Malcolm Thomas and 22 from Kawhi Leonard. D.J. Gay had 11 points going 3-of-4 from long range. The Aztecs outscored UNM from the line by eight points and won by six points.

The Lobos return to The Pit for a 7:30 p.m. tip Saturday with Utah. "Our challenge to our guys is we are young and we are a little inexperienced, but we still have a chance to win 20 basketball games," said Alford.

The Lobos will take a 17-9 mark at Utah. UNM is 5-6 in the MWC. The No. 6 Aztecs move to 26-1 overall and 11-1 in league play.

Second Half: Lobos 38, San Diego State 37
A key for UNM in the second half was not allowing the Aztecs to get off to a hot start in front of their rabid crowd. The Lobos needed to cut into San Diego State's lead and be hanging around at the end of the game. Instead, the Aztecs came out and extended their lead to 37-26. Alford called a timeout.

Lobos A.J. Hardeman (left) and Chad Adams lean in on SDSU's Brian Carlwell

The Aztecs went up 39-28 on two free throws from Leonard before UNM cut it to 39-30 on a power drive by Gary. That score held up going into the first media break of the second half.

The Aztecs came out of that break and drifted away a bit further. Leonard tossed in two free throws at 12:10 to push SDSU up 47-33 - 14 points. Gary hit a big trey to cut that gap to 47-36 at the 11:37 break.

Gary got a steal and went coast-to-coast to finish: 47-38. The Lobos had a little momentum. The Aztecs quickly took it back with a 5-0 run that produced a 52-38 lead. UNM then scored four unanswered points, the final two a Gary layup out of transition. SDSU called time, up 52-42 with 8:45 to play. At the 7:45 media break, SDSU was up 53-42.

UNM got an old-fashioned three-point play from Gordon: 53-48. The Lobos were hanging around. The Aztecs went up 55-45 and UNM's Tony Snell brought the Lobos to within seven with a trey: 55-48. The Aztecs got a single free shot from Gay: 56-48 with 5:35 to go.

The Aztecs worked the ball inside to Leonard, who got fouled and made one: 57-48. Hardeman inside: 57-50. Leonard smashed into Snell on a drive, but the call went to Leonard. He made one free throw: 58-50.

Gordon brought the Lobos closer with a bucket inside: 58-52. Leonard ran into another Lobo, Hardeman, but this time got called for the charge. UNM called time with 1:46 to go and down six points.

Gary went to the line at the 1:20 mark and pulled UNM to 58-54. SDSU's Leonard lost the ball momentarily on a drive, but recovered and threw up a shot that rattled in: 60-54. UNM's Gary came down and popped in a 15-footer to make it 60-56. UNM called a quick timeout with 41.5 to go.

Hardeman fouled Gay with 34.9 to play. Gay made the first and then missed, but UNM's McDonald stepped on the line on the scramble for the rebound. UNM fouled Thomas at 32.8 and he made the first and SDSU's Leonard got the rebound. The talented sophomore made both free shots: 64-56.

UNM's Snell got smacked by Leonard while launching a trey. Leonard went to the bench with five fouls and Snell went to the line shooting three. Snell made three straight and UNM was down 64-59. UNM put Thomas on the line with 16.7 to play. Thomas made two: 66-59.

Snell gave the Lobos a prayer with a trey from the top of the key: 66-62 with 8.3 ticks to go. The Lobos needed a steal. Instead, the Lobos were forced to foul Thomas with 7.3 seconds to go. Thomas chased any Lobo miracle out of the gym by making two: 68-62. That was the final.

First Half: San Diego State 31, Lobos 24
Part of the Lobos' plan was to come out tough and match San Diego State's intensity. Going into the first media break at 15:49, the Lobos had done exactly that and carried a 4-2 lead into their huddle.

The Aztecs then completed an 8-0 run with a Leonard post move and SDSU was up 8-4. UNM's Snell cut the gap to 8-7 on a trey and Gay countered from long range to push SDSU up 11-7. Hardeman scored inside off the glass and UNM trailed 11-9 at the 11:58 break.

The Lobos continued to get a spark from Hardeman off the bench. The junior scored five straight UNM points to pull the Lobos to 15-14. UNM took a 16-15 lead at 8:49 off two free throws by Gary.

The Aztecs then fired up at both ends of the court. The Aztecs went on a 7-0 run accented by a Tapley trey from the baseline and SDSU was up 22-16. A Thomas bucket inside made it 24-17. Lobo Alex Kirk scored on a follow and Gordon scored on a post move to help UNM go into the 3:48 break down 26-21.

The Aztecs went up 29-22 on another long trey by Gay at the top of the key. Snell threw in a running jumper to cut it to 29-24. The Lobos were looking to take the final shot of the half, but Leonard got a steal and a breakaway dunk to form the 31-24 halftime score.

SDSU went 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the first half and UNM had eight turnovers to three for the home team.