Lobo Abella in No. 3 spot at National Invitational
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/14/2014


EVENT: National Invitational Tournament, Friday-Sunday
LOCATION: Tucson, Ariz., Omni Tucson National Resort
FIELD: 14 teams, including No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 California, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 20 New Mexico, No. 24 UNLV, No. 32 SMU, No. 36 San Diego State and No. 39 TCU
LOBOS COMPETING: Joe Abella, Andrej Bevins, Gavin Green, Victor Perez, Sean Romero, Sam Saunders
LIVE SCORING: Golfstat.com (9 a.m., all three days)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The good news for Lobo Coach Glen Millican at the National Invitational Tournament being played at the Omni Tucson National Resort is that sophomore Joseph Abella shot lights out and is tied for third place after 18 holes.

The not-so-good news is that Abella isn’t on Millican’s five-man team roster and Abella’s 4-under 68 doesn’t count on New Mexico’s team card.  The Lobos’ first-round score of 288 has them in the No. 8 spot, 20 shots behind red-hot California, which had four players crack into the 60s including a 64 from Brandon Hagy.

Still, it was a breakout type of round for the 5-foot-8 Abella, who threw out six birdies against two bogeys to fire New Mexico’s best round of the day.

Of the rounds that counted on UNM’s team card, Victor Perez led the way with a two-under 70 followed by Sam Saunders at 72, Gavin Green at 73, Sean Romero at 73 and Andrej Bevins at 76.

“Joseph obviously played very well,” said Millican.  “We actually played a lot of solid golf today, but it looks like we are going to need to get a few players into the 60s in order to make a charge.  California had a phenomenal first round and an outstanding score of 268.”

In the irony department, if Abella had been on the Lobos’ team card, New Mexico would have a 283 instead of a 288 and be in fourth place a shot ahead of UNLV and San Diego State of the Mountain West.

California’s sizzling 268 has the Bears 13 shots ahead of Arizona’s 281 and 14 shots head of No. 3 Oklahoma State which came in at 282.   Arizona had two golfers push into the 60s.

California has four golfers in the top 10 after 18 holes led by Hagy at 64 and Michael Weaver, who carded a 67.  Abella is in a four-way tie for the third spot at 68 and there are four golfers with first-rounds of 69.

Abella was coming off a streak of 16 straight rounds of 70 or higher and coming off an 81 in the John Burns Invitational, so that 68 was a welcome sight on his scorecard.  As a freshman, Abella’s best round in a 54-hole event was a 73.

The next best score from a golfer playing as an individual was 72, which was good for a tie for the 26th spot. Perez’s 70 has him tied for the 12th spot and Saunders’ 72 also falls into the 26th hole.

The 20th-ranked Lobos are the defending champion in the 54-hole NIT that will pick up with 18 holes on Saturday and the final 18 holes on Sunday at the Omni Tucson.

To put California’s round of 268 into perspective, Millican’s Lobos’ final round at the previous tournament was a 288 and Millican was not unhappy with that score which was better than 12 of the 15 ranked teams could card.

Millican went to Tucson saying he is still trying to decide who will be on his five-man team roster for postseason play.  The battle for the fifth spot appears to be between Sean Romero, Abella and Mitch Johnson.

After 18 holes, Abella might be leading by a chin – and a few birdies.