STEVENS: Lobos' 86-78 Win Over Cal Sends Message & Statement
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  12/02/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Dec. 2, 2009

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Wednesday: Lobos 86, California 78
Saturday: New Mexico State at Lobos, 7 p.m., The Pit
Online: GameTracker, game story on GoLobos.com

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Lobo coach Steve Alford said there was "a message" in the 86-78 Pit win over No. 25 California. Junior Darington Hobson said there was "a statement."

Alford's message was his young and undefeated Lobos are "getting better." That message probably could be expanded to say these 7-0 Lobos are poised, talented, deep and probably not all that aware that maybe they are too young to be so good, so early in the season.

But Wednesday night in The Pit, the baby-faced Lobos made big plays time and again down the stretch -- and for 40 minutes -- to pull away from the Bears out of the Pac-10.

"It's a huge win for our team and our program," said Alford.

If so, then it just might be the statement game Hobson envisions. "We wanted to make a statement to the conference and nationally," said the junior transfer. "If we take care of business this weekend, we should get some votes."

The win over California has a few footnotes because the Bears were banged up, minus two key players, and the game was in The Pit. "Without them (fans), we would of had a tougher time winning," said Hobson.

Maybe. But maybe the most promising thing about this non-conference victory was the way the Lobos sealed the deal at the end -- not the No. 25 ranked team in the nation.

"To New Mexico's credit, they made some key shots," said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. "They made plays down the stretch and we didn't. We were up six and playing pretty well and at that time we needed to seal the deal. We did not do that."

Yes, the Bears did have a six-point lead at 66-60, but there was still 10:52 to play and Alford had shifted his Lobos out of a man-to-man and into a zone. "I thought our man-to-man defense got exploited," said Alford. "We couldn't guard them with (a man). They are hard to guard."

That's a key point to any frustration the Lobos might have had on defense. Cal is guard-tough behind All-Pac-10 picks Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher. They also have a solid guard in Jorge Gutierrez and a mobile forward/wing in Jamal Boykin. These are among the reasons Cal is ranked and picked to win the Pac-10 conference.

Randle had 20 points, Christopher 15, Boykin 21 and 13 boards, and Gutierrez had 10 points. The Lobos got a massive game from Hobson with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Roman Martinez kicked in 16 points, Phillip McDonald had 15 and Nate Garth came off the bench to score 11 points.

"I thought Nate Garth was tremendous in the second half," said Alford.

UNM shot 41.4 percent from the floor to 45.2 percent for Cal. UNM outrebounded Cal 44-to-34. The big difference in the game was UNM attacking the basket more and marching to the free-throw line 35 times to 17 for the visitors from Berkeley. UNM hit 27 free shots to 12 for Cal.

The Lobos' last deficit came at the 9:02 mark (67-65). The Lobos were locked in a 74-74 tie with 3:41 to play and outscored the Bears 12-to-4 down the stretch run. UNM hit 14 of its final 15 free shots.

A huge basket for UNM came off the fingertips of Dairese Gary with 1:38 to play. The shot clock was winding down and Gary threw one of his patented power drives at the Cal defense. It ended in a layup and an 81-76 UNM lead. The Lobos used the free-throw line the rest of the way to complete the win.

"Our guys play hard and they play unselfish," said Alford. "They find ways of winning. I can't imagine there is a younger team in the country that has found more ways to win.

"The crowd was terrific. There were several times when I thought Cal was one possession away from sneaking it away from us. I thought the crowd helped us get some stops."

Alford said he hopes The Pit crowd returns in force on Saturday. Yeah, it's another big game: New Mexico State. Aggies. Those guys from Cruces.

Second Half

Cal came out of the half down 43-42 and quickly took a 44-43 lead on an 8-footer by Christopher. A McDonald trey and a Hobson follow put UNM up 48-44.

Cal then scored two baskets in close to tie it at 48-all and McDonald banged in another trey to give UNM a 51-48 lead. Boykin scored on a power drive to pull Cal to within a point at 51-50. The score stayed there going into the first media break of the second half at 15:55.

Soph. Nate Garth

Neither one of these teams was going to yield much at either end. Randle threw in three consecutive 3-pointers wedged around a Martinez trey and a Fenton drive. Cal called a timeout at 13:38 with the score 59-57 in favor of Cal. At the 11:59 media break, it was 61-60 Cal.

The Bears stretched their led to 66-60 off two bad shots by UNM and two good shots by Cal. Hobson threw up an air ball and Will Brown banged one off the rim. Guitierrez hit a jumper off a pick and Boykin scored on a drive to produce the six-point Cal lead. Garth cut it to three points, 66-63, on a trey.

Max Zhang, the Bears' 7-3 center, went to the line at 9:57 and clattered in one for a 67-63 Cal lead. At the 9:02 mark, Hobson tossed in two free throws to make it 67-65 in Cal's favor. The Pit was becoming rowdy.

The Bears, maybe not quite as deep as the Lobos on this night, lost their first player at 8:45 when Omondi Amoke went to the bench with his fifth foul. Hobson tied the game at 67-all at 7:37 on a change-of-pace, change-of-direction drive that produced a layup. "(The defender) did a good job cutting me off, but I had a counter move," said Hobson.

Cal turned the ball over on a walk and Garth drove the lane to get bumped on a short jumper. He popped in two and UNM was back on top, 69-67. Zhang scored underneath, 69-all. Garth then whipped through the lane for a layup that pushed UNM up, 71-69. Chad Adams came in and quickly fouled Boykin. The Bear hit one: 71-70 UNM's edge.

McDonald got a roar from The Pit with a trey that gave UNM a 74-70 lead. A Boykin dunk made it 74-72 and Cal called a timeout with 4:00 to play. Hobson lost the ball on a drive that led to a Gutierrez layup and a 74-74 tie. Martinez popped out to pop in a trey: 77-74 UNM's favor. Boykin hit a short turnaround jumper to slide Cal into a 77-76 deficit.

The teams went into a break with 2:24 to play with UNM still up 77-76. UNM's Gary came out of the huddle looking at a one-and-one. The Lobo junior swished one and rolled one in for a 79-76 UNM lead. A Cal miss led to a Gary power drive, trying to beat the shot clock, at 1:39. He tossed in a soft, left-handed layup and UNM was up 81-76. Christopher missed a trey on the baseline and Alford called a timeout with 1:05 to play -- up five points, 81-76.

Cal fouled Hobson with 56.1 to go. The junior hit both ends of the one-and-one and UNM extended its lead to 83-76. Boykin scored underneath for Cal to make it 83-78 with 46.5 to play. Cal called a timeout. The Bears' press didn't create a turnover and McDonald was sent to the line with 35.3 to play. The sophomore hit one: 84-78. Cal missed long and with 22.2 to play, Martinez went to the line. The senior hit both: 86-78.

The score stayed that way, but UNM's record was bumped up by one: 7-0, still undefeated.

First Half -- Lobos 43, Cal 42

The Lobos had two turnovers and a bad shot before Hobson casually drained a 3-pointer to put the Lobos on the scoreboard. Cal had a trey and a follow-up to hold a 5-3 lead before Hardeman hit two free throws to form a 5-all tie. Patrick Christopher banged in a trey over Hobson to put Cal back up 8-5. Hardeman hit two more from the line to pull UNM to 8-7. Hobson added a free throw to make it 8-all.

Phillip McDonald - 15 pts

Cal's Randle was wide open on an in-bounds play and hit a trey to make it 11-8. Martinez scored on a baseline drive and then added a 3-point play on a drive and a foul to push the Lobos up 14-11. Going into the media break at 11:35 the Lobos were up 19-16 on a layup by Hardeman and a trey by Curtis Dennis. The Bears had six turnovers at that mark to five for the Lobos. UNM's edge came at the line, 7-of-9 to 0-of-0.

Cal got inside the UNM defense for two layups to take a 20-19 lead. When Jamal Boykin took a feed from Randle and turned it into a 15-footer, Alford called a timeout looking at a board that favored Cal 22-19. The Bears were on a little 9-0 run. Alford probably didn't get the shot he wanted coming out of the break --a Martinez air ball -- but Hardeman ran down the loose ball and threw in a layup to make it 22-21. Martinez then swished one from the baseline to put the Lobos up 24-22. Christopher answered with a trey and it was 25-24 Cal at the 7:39 break.

California drifted up 31-26 on two treys by Nikola Knezevic wedged around a tip by Hobson. A free throw by McDonald cut it to 31-27. Nate Garth blew through the Cal defense to drop in a left-handed layup: 31-29. Gutierrez floated in a short shot to make it 33-29 and Garth countered with two free throws to pull UNM to 33-31. Randle converted both ends of a one-and-one and Cal was up 35-31 at 5:05.

McDonald turned a Cal turnover into a trey at the top of the key. UNM went into the 3:20 media break down a point, 35-34. Hobson came out of the break to knock down the front end of a one-and-one. Cal lost the rebound and Hobson was fouled trying to score on the in-bounds play. He made one free shot again and UNM was up 36-35. Christopher posted on UNM's Gary and got bumped. The Bear made both: 37-36 Cal.

Hobson made it look easy on a layup: 38-37 UNM. The Lobo junior was called for a reach on the other end and Cal's Sanders-Frison was at the line with 1:54 to play. He was good for one: 38-all. Fenton came down and turned a bounce pass from Gary into a trey: 41-38 leaning to the Lobos. Sanders-Frison was fouled inside again, this time by UNM's Dennis. He made two this time: 41-40 UNM with 1:21 to go.

Fenton was called for a touch foul on a drive by Randle with 53.8 until the half. The Bear senior was good for two: 42-41 in favor of Cal. Hobson missed a layup for UNM and Randle missed a layup for Cal. Gary didn't miss his layup with two ticks to go and UNM carried a slim 43-42 lead into the locker room.

The Lobos got 11 points and six boards from Hobson in the first half. Hardeman and Martinez each had eight points. UNM outrebounded Cal 24-to-16 with ten offensive boards to three for the Bears. UNM shot 39.4 percent from the floor to 46.4 percent for Cal. UNM was 12-of-17 from the line and Cal was 9-of-11. Christopher had 11 first-half points and Randle had nine.