New Mexico Lobos Mountain West Basketball – At Nevada
Sunday: New Mexico 72, Nevada 58
Wednesday: Air Force at New Mexico – University Arena
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com.
And now there are two – Mountain West games left. Of course, you also could say there are two team left vying for the 2014 Mountain West title.
The Lobos made another big step toward that title with a 72-58 road win over the Nevada Wolf Pack. UNM plays Air Force in The Pit on Wednesday and finishes up at San Diego State where the MW title will be decided one way or the other.
Either it will be a shared title – or SDSU or UNM will wear the crown alone. The teams both have 14-2 MW marks. SDSU plays UNLV prior to welcoming the Lobos to San Diego. UNM is 23-5 on the year. SDSU is 25-3 overall.
“One at a time,” said Lamont Smith, New Mexico’s associate head coach, noting the importance of a win over Air Force.
The Lobos win in Reno was a big turnaround for New Mexico – down 14 in the first half, up 14 at the end.
“We really played a great second half,” said Smith.
The Lobos also played a great final 4:13 in the first half. It was a key stretch. The Lobos needed to get back into the game. The Lobos needed to make a statement. They were down 31-17 and Nevada was playing smooth and confident. New Mexico closed with a 10-0 run to cut the gap to 31-27 at the break. The Wolf Pack staggered into their locker room.
“We just told the guys we wanted to win this 3:21,” Coach Smith said of the first-half stretch run that came after the final media break of the first half with 3:21 to play. UNM was down 12 points at that stop.
“They went out and made some shots and got some stops,” said Smith. The key to that final burst was Lobo defense. The Lobos finally made it tough on Nevada to get off a shot and those misses helped UNM to run to easier baskets.
The Wolf Pack did what a lot of teams try to do against the Lobos. They used a zone. They trapped the Lobo posts. “They were double teaming our posts and leaving our perimeter guys open,” said Smith. “Coach (Craig Neal) said, ‘Let’s look to attack the basket a little more.”
UNM’s Cameron Bairstow had 22 points with Alex Kirk adding 11 and Williams chipping in 10. Williams and Kirk had double-doubles. Williams had 10 assists and Kirk added 11 rebounds. Williams is now the Mountain West career assist leader.
“Kendall is tremendous,” said Coach Smith. “He can score at a high rate, but he is distributing the ball at a high rate too. He can hurt you in so many areas.”
Kirk, UNM”s 7-footer, had four blocked shots and Bairstow had two blocks. “We funnel a lot of things to the middle and we make guys make shots over them,” said Smith. Bairstow went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
UNM got 17 points off the bench. Nevada got four bench points. UNM shot 49.1 percent from the floor to 34.9 percent for the Wolf Pack. The Lobos shot 57.1 percent in the second half and went 5-of-11 from 3-point range in the second half after going 1-of-9 in the first 20 minutes.
Deone Burton had 15 points for Nevada as did Huff. Burton had five points in the second half. “We made a conscious effort to get gap help and make him make the extra pass,” said Smith.
The Lobos needed something good to happen in the first half and got it with a 10-0 run to close the half. UNM had fallen into a 31-17 hole, but rallied out of it to go down 31-27 at the half. The Lobo run obviously helped on the scoreboard, but this was a psychological blow, too. The Wolf Pack looked to be heading into the locker room with a double-digit lead. They were in control of the tempo and playing well. They lost that edge and let the Lobos get back into the game.
Nevada came out of the break playing well, but New Mexico continued to play with confidence and their renewed intensity on defense made it tougher on the Wolf Pack. It was the Lobo defense that sparked their 10-0 burst in the first half.
At the media break under 12 minutes, UNM was up 45-44. Nevada used a UNM turnover to form a 49-49 tie, but Cullen Neal hit a trey to push his team up 52-49 and later added two free throws to make it 54-49. Greenwood then followed a Kirk rebound with a trey: 57-49. It was Greenwood’s first trey after five misses. The Lobos were looking to pull away.
Nevada was going to have to knock down a lot of treys to complete their upset bid – while stopping the UNM defense. They couldn’t do it. Greenwood probably sealed the win at the 2:33 mark by knocking down a bomb near the top of the key. UNM had a 67-56 lead. Thomas made it better for UNM with a baseline trey: 70-56.
The UNM team that was down 14 in the first half was now up 14 points – a 28-point turnaround. UNM rolled in for the 72-58 final.
And roll toward Air Force – and that other team, too.