Stevens: Looking For Win No. 400 Won't Be A Given for Alford At Air Force
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  01/31/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Jan. 31, 2011

Game Notes #23: New Mexico at Air Force Get Acrobat
Opponent Media Notes: Air Force Get Acrobat

Lobo Men's Basketball - On The Mountain West Road
6 p.m., Lobos at Air Force - Clune Arena
On The Air: The Mtn (TV); 770-AM KKOB / Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Story, Stats

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In searching for career win No. 400, Lobo coach Steve Alford has a few high hurdles between him and that landmark victory.

  • A Princeton offense.
  • A tricky matchup zone.
  • A much-improved Air Force Falcons' team.

    Alford also might be dealing with a few Lobos whom still have their heads in the clouds following their convincing win over No. 9 Brigham Young Saturday in The Pit.

    On the excitement scale, on the hype scale, a visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy doesn't exactly stack up to the emotional roller coaster Steve Alford's Lobos experienced with a Pit win over No. 9 Brigham Young.

    In the won-lost column, there is no difference. You beat BYU, you get a "W." You beat Air Force, you get a "W." You lose to Air Force, you get an "L."

    One of the problems Alford faces on this MWC trip a bump North of Colorado Springs is the "W" vs. BYU is already in the books. The Falcons have yet to fall and to borrow a phrase Alford turned after his Mountain West win over BYU: The Falcons are not an easy out in 2011.

    They are older. They are better. And if they shoot well - like the Lobos did against BYU - the Falcons can ruin your day.

    In their last outing, the Falcons ruined the day for some Horned Frogs in Fort Worth. Falcon Derek Brooks had a career-high 18 points as Air Force overcame a five-point deficit in overtime to pull out a 66-65 win over TCU. The Falcons snapped a 20-game road losing streak to MWC teams.

    That 12th win this season gave the Falcons their most wins since 2007-08. Another number to reveal this improved Falcons' team is their 3-4 MWC slate. Air Force was 1-15 in league games a season back.

    The Falcons are led in scoring by Michael Lyons at 13.4 per game. He scored 26 vs. Utah and has been in double figures 13 times this season. Taylor Broekhuis shoots 54.9 percent with a modest 9.3 average. Todd Fletcher is a smooth point guard, who averages 2.7 assists per game and has committed only six turnovers in his last 13 games.

    Senior Tom Fow is a Falcon that picks his long shots well and often makes them. He is No. 3 in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage at 49 percent. He is 63 percent is his last five games. He is No. 2 in scoring for Air Force at 12.8 points per game.

    Of course, a huge key to beating Air Force is to have the discipline on defense to play defense to the bottom of the shot clock. The Falcons' Princeton offense relies on a lot of screens to create pop-out treys, easy jumpers or backdoor lanes to the bucket. They try to wear you down on defense and then exploit your mistake.

    The Lobos win over BYU was huge and for sure helped them in the MWC race -- but maybe not as much as it helped San Diego State, which won in The Pit, but lost at BYU. Maybe the biggest benefit from the minor upset was the confidence it gave this young Lobo team.

    The Jimmer Fredette-led Cougars are not an easy out anywhere.

    As far as the MWC race goes, you still have to give 6-1 BYU and 6-1 San Diego State the edge. They also should be locks for at-large NCAA bids, regardless of which team eventually grabs the conference's automatic bid in the MWC tourney in Vegas.

    If BYU or SDSU win that tourney - and that's not a farfetched idea - then any other MWC teams looking for at-large bids need to start laying the groundwork now.

    The Lobos' now is at Air Force. The Fly Boys are in a 3-4 log jam with UNM and Utah for the fifth spot in the MWC race. UNLV is at 4-3 and Colorado State continues to be the surprise of the league at 5-2, with road wins at UNLV and Utah. If the Rams continue to play at this high level, the Lobos need a win at Air Force in order to stay close.

    Any MWC team looking for an at-large NCAA bid (other than BYU or SDSU) would do well to finish in the No. 3 spot in the MWC regular-season race.

    The Lobos' plan right now is to continue to improve, continue to win, and continue to leapfrog over teams above them in the MWC standings. The Lobos end the first half of the MWC race at Air Force. The Lobos have some tough road trips in the second half, especially at BYU, at SDSU and at CSU.

    For sure, coach Alford is hoping career win No. 400 comes long before visits to BYU, SDSU or CSU.

    Mountain West Notes:

    RPI Big Boys: BYU is No. 2 in the latest NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) report, while San Diego State is listed at No. 4. The Mountain West is the only conference with two teams ranked in the Top-5 of the RPI. Overall, the MWC has four teams ranked in the Top-50 of the RPI, with UNLV (32) and Colorado State (48) joining the Cougars and Aztecs.

    400 And Counting:San Diego State's Steve Fisher recorded his 400th career win on Jan. 12 against UNLV. Fisher, whose record now sits at 403-232 (.635), is one of two Mountain West Conference coaches in the 400-win club, joining UNLV's Lon Kruger (471-300, .611). New Mexico's Steve Alford is just one win shy of that same milestone, currently holding a 399-216 (.649) career record.

    Overtime, Anyone? MWC teams have played seven overtime games this season, with Air Force participating in three of them.

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