Nov. 24, 2008
Monday: Lobos 85, Cal State Northridge 74
Up Next: Lobos vs. Virginia Commonwealth, Nov. 29, at Cancun, Mexico
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Probably one lesson the New Mexico Lobos learned Monday night in The Pit is that you can't always take the fight out of the foe you are facing. But you can fight right along with them.
The Cal State Northridge Matadors didn't go down easy in the University of New Mexico's 85-74 non-conference win, but the Lobos didn't make it easy on them either. The Lobos kept attacking on defense, kept attacking on offense -- stayed tough.
And the end result of all this intense Lobo basketball was something the Lobos should learn to like -- a finish that led to a win.
"It's important for us to finish games and it all starts on the defensive end," said Lobo junior Roman Martinez. "I think this was a big win for us."
Said Lobos coach Steve Alford: "It was really a good bounce-back win for us. This was really a must-win game for us going into the Cancun tournament."
Alford opened the game with a surprise lineup as he started sophomore Dairese Gary and freshman Phillip McDonald, but gave those two Lobos a few new faces to work with in A.J. Hardeman, Will Brown and Jonathan Wills. That put Martinez, Tony Danridge and Daniel Faris on the bench.
"It was to send whatever (message) needed to be sent," said Alford. "I thought the starters responded well. I thought the bench responded well. If there was a message, it was to play with a little more passion."
The Lobos raced to a 46-30 halftime lead and were up 71-48 with 10:11 to play on back-to-back 3-pointers by Martinez, who ended with a career-high five treys and finished with a game-high 20 points. Danridge was the only other Lobo to finish in double figures with 16 points.
It got interesting down the stretch when the Matadors made the typical desperation run that comes from good teams about to get beat. Northridge cut the gap to 78-67 with 3:49 to play. Alford called a timeout.
UNM came out of the break and spread the court, working the ball to Martinez in the corner. He banged in a trey and UNM was up 81-67. Northridge's Josh Jenkins, an Albuquerque's Valley High graduate, forced a pass into the heart of the UNM defense that led to a Danridge dunk at the other end and UNM was up 83-67.
And the Lobos had their finish -- 85-74. "We withstood that run," said Alford.
The Lobos ended the game shooting 46.3 percent from the field to 38.1 percent for Northridge. UNM went 26-of-32 from the free throw line (81.3 percent) and Northridge went 16-of-20. The Matadors outrebounded UNM 42-to-33. UNM's top rebounder was Hardeman with six.
"If there was a thing that was glaring, it was the board play," said Alford, who saw his Lobos push their record to 3-2 in front of 12,101 fans. Alford said his Lobos "started taking bad shots," at one stretch during Northridge's run but also said, "I was glad we showed some toughness down the stretch."
The Lobos' coach said one thing that surprised him Monday was Northridge using a 1-3-1, halfcourt, trapping defense. "I thought we did a really good job for not practicing against a 1-3-1," said Alford.
Alford also said he was happy that his Lobos came back with better effort at the free-throw line. "It's a toughness deal. It really is," said Alford. "To take what you do in practice and do those things in game play (in front of a large crowd)."
The Lobos open play at the Cancun Tournament Saturday battling Virginia Commonwealth. "The schedule obviously heats up," said Alford. "We're looking at a five-game stretch here that's going to be brutal as far as competition goes."
The advantage of the free throw line poked its head up in a big way in the first half. The Lobos were outrebounded 24-to-14 and Northridge had seven more field goal attempts than UNM. But the Lobos had the fat 46-30 lead going 17-of-20 from the line. Northridge also had a nice percentage from the line, but only got off six free throws, making five of them.
UNM also won the turnover battle in the first half with seven compared to 15 for the visitors. UNM shot 48 percent from the field to 31.3 percent for Northridge. The Lobos had only one player in double figures in the first half, Martinez with 11 points, but eight other Lobos scored.
Editor's note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner