New Mexico Lobos Men’s Basketball – At the Charleston Classic
Thursday’s Games – TD Arena (5,100) – Charleston, S.C.
Game 1: Nebraska vs. UMass. Game 2: New Mexico vs. UAB. Game 3: Georgia vs. Davidson. Game 4: Temple vs. Clemson.
Game 2: 1 p.m., Thursday, No. 19/20 Lobos (2-0) vs. UAB Blazers (3-0)
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB; ESPNU (Dish 141, DirecTV 203, Comcast 281). Live steam on www.espn3.com
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
To simplify the Lobos, target in Charleston, you go to the one-game-at-a-time adage and focus on the UAB Blazers.
If you want to crank down that microscope another notch, you narrow in on Alabama Birmingham’s C.J. Washington, who appears to have quickly made the jump from JC ball to D-I ball. Consider two things:
1. The mobile 6-8 forward has led the Blazers in scoring in their first three games – all wins.
2. So, obviously Washington is the team’s leading scorer with a 20-point average.
The problem with concentrating too much on Washington is that the Blazers have a handful of scorers: Chad Frazier (12.0), Rod Rucker (11.7), Fahro Alihodzic (10.7). Robert Williams (9.0) and Jordan Swing (8.3).
This six-man crew is the heart of a UAB team that is 3-0 and has pounded their opponents on the glass by 20.7 boards a game.
The Blazers’ board work is impressive, too: Alihodzic (9.0), Washington (8.3), Rucker (8.3) and Williams (6.3).
“They have size. They are a great offensive rebounding team,” said Lobo Coach Craig Neal. Washington has 25 boards on the year -- 10 offensive. Alihodzic had 27 boards -- 11 offensive. Williams has 19 boards -- nine on the offensive end. Tosin Mehinti comes off the bench with 15 boards -- 10 offensive.
For sure, the UAB Blazers are looking at the Lobos as an early signature win. The Lobos are ranked No. 19/20 in the nation. They are the defending Mountain West champions. And UAB hasn’t beaten a ranked team on a neutral floor since 2004.
That was a nice upset – 76-75 over No. 1 Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
Washington will be an interesting defensive challenge for the Lobos, who are big inside and quick on the perimeter, but have yet to establish a defensive stopper vs. an aggressive, mobile, power forward.
Is the 6-9 Cameron Bairstow quick enough to stop Washington? Lobo fans might find out. UNM’s 7-foot Alex Kirk probably will go at the 6-10 Alihodzic.
The Blazers have a nice lineup of strong, attacking bodies. Rucker is a 6-5 senior forward. He led UAB in scoring (14.5) and rebounding (8.2) as a junior. He must be guarded. Jordan is a 6-6 wing averaged 14.0 points a year back and led the team in 3-pointers made. He is a tall 3-point gun.
The Blazers are led out front by 6-4 Chad Frazier another JC transfer, who has reached double figures in each of his three games at UAB. He had 12 assists vs. Columbus State.
UAB will have a challenge matching up with the Lobos inside, but they counter with strength and size on the wings. This size has helped them with board domination.
The Blazers will not be intimidated by UNM. UAB has pushed its way into postseason play in 25 of the past 35 years and in the NCAA Tournament they have gone where no Lobos have gone – to the Sweet 16 (three times).
If the Lobos win on Thursday, they will advance in the winners’ bracket to play the winner of Nebraska vs. UMass. If the Lobos lose, they drop into the consolation bracket. The Lobos are going East chasing a trophy.
“It’s our first chance to win a championship,” said Lobo Kendall Williams. “And that’s what we pride ourselves on, so we are going to go down to Charleston and try to win a championship.”
Obviously, a key for UNM to return with some tournament iron is to keep UAB off the boards and off the free-throw line. The Blazers will attack the basket and the basketball officials of 2013-14 have a keen eye for contact and hand-checking.
Lobo Coach Craig Neal was not happy with his UNM defense in a 109-93 Pit win over Charleston Southern. The Bucs scored 57 points in the second half.
“We have to guard,” said Neal. “We’re going to have to get back to work because we’re not going to be able to win games allowing people to score that easily.
“I think any (team) who goes in there and plays well and guards and plays together has a chance to win it. There is no clear-cut favorite. Our guys aren’t going to have our 15,000 (fans). They have to learn to play together and stay together on a neutral floor.”
Said Williams: “Now, we get thrown into the fire.”
New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -- 2013-14 Roster