Feb. 21, 2009
Saturday: Lobos 75, San Diego State 49
Up Next: Lobos vs. TCU, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Lobo Tony Danridge said, "It was pretty easy, actually." What Danridge was talking about was shaking loose from the San Diego State defense and throwing down some monster, Pit-rockin' dunks. The Lobo senior also could have been talking about Saturday's game between the Lobos and the team Lobo coach Steve Alford labeled as the best in the league.
The Lobos threw just about every aspect of their game into high gear and blew the Aztecs out of The Pit 75-49. "I couldn't be more proud of this team," said Alford. "It would be hard to find fault in anybody who played tonight."
Maybe the formula for Alford to get his Lobos to blow out a top Mountain West team in The Pit is to tell them the visitors are the cream of the MWC crop. He did it when BYU came to town and were spanked 81-62. He did it for SDSU's visit and they joined four other MWC teams to post a season-low for points when facing the UNM defense.
"Our defense has been really solid," said Alford. "And that's our staple. That's what we have to be." Alford said when "you beat a team like we beat this team," his Lobos have to be doing a lot of things well.
So true. The Lobos beat the Aztecs in these key statistical areas: field goals made, 3-pointers made, free throws made, assists, turnovers, blocked shots, steals, rebounds and field-goal defense.
Actually, there wasn't a single category on the stat sheet that didn't favor UNM. The Lobos also had fewer fouls and more offensive and defensive boards.
It was a complete victory and you could tell by looking at Alford's face in the post-game media conference. The second-year Lobo coach was beaming with pride at what his young team did to the Aztecs in The Pit. On his post-game radio show, Alford even joked that he wanted to stick around and talk some more about the win.
The win raised UNM's overall mark to 17-10 and pulled them into a tie with SDSU at 8-4 in MWC standing. Alford has stated a number of times that he believes a fifth loss will have a team fighting for a No. 2 seed in the regular-season race. The Lobos play host to TCU at 6 p.m. Tuesday in The Pit.
"This was a big game," said junior Roman Martinez. "It was huge for us to come out and win this game." Martinez scored 17 points to follow Danridge's 25 points in the UNM scoring column. Phillip McDonald had 10 points and five rebounds. Dairese Gary had five assists to one turnover.
Danridge added four assists and a steal and senior Daniel Faris was the game's top rebounder with 10. "I thought Daniel was a huge key in his ability to rebound and guard," said Alford.
The Lobos scratched out a 40-29 halftime lead, but it didn't come easy and it didn't come early. With 3:53 to go in the first half, UNM was up 27-24. They finished the half with a 13-5 run, making their final six shots.
Danridge ended the half with 16 points and Martinez had 14. No Aztecs reached double figures in the first 20 minutes, with Kyle Spain scoring nine of his 18 in the first half.
"I think the first half was really important for us," said Martinez. "We came out and set the tone early."
The Aztecs stepped into The Pit riding a three-game win streak in Albuquerque and Alford said he stressed to his Lobos that streak needed to end. "It would be a record, winning four in a row in The Pit," said Danridge. "UTEP also did it and we didn't want a conference team to have that, too."
The Aztecs came out of the break and came up with a short run to cut the Lobos' lead to seven points at 45-38 with 13:46 to play.
"We knew there was going to be a run," said Alford. "We talked about that at halftime. We told 'em, `if we stay away from a San Diego State run, it's going to be very difficult for them to get back into the game.'"
Danridge ended that Aztec run with a 3-pointer at 13:46 that pushed UNM up 48-38. A Chad Toppert jumper followed by a Gary trey and another Toppert trey put UNM up 56-40. Freshman Will Brown then followed a Faris miss with a power spin under the basket and UNM was up 58-40 -- 18 points with 8:48 to play.
McDonald got into the act from long range, hit a trey near the top of the key, and the Lobos' had a 61-42 lead. Danridge worked the SDSU middle and popped in a short jumper to hand UNM a 63-42 bulge. At that point, The Pit had grown quiet embracing the UNM win. There wasn't much energy left in the Aztecs either. The Lobos had a 70-43 lead with 4:15 to play and rolled to the 75-49 final.
The first half was key for the Lobos because it looked like the teams might be close going into the break. The Lobos jumped to a 13-10 lead. Martinez had done most of the damage for UNM with two 3-pointers and a 15-foot jumper. Danridge added a bucket that included a free shot and another short jumper.
The Aztecs started the game without Spain, who had been ill this week, and lost starter Billy White a few minutes into the game. White went down with a knee injury leaping out at Martinez on his first 3-pointer. White later hobbled off The Pit floor on crutches and only played one minute against the Lobos.
The Lobos' next bucket was a beauty as Danridge got loose on the left side and threw down a monster dunk that served as the first spark to get the juices of The Pit flowing. At the 11:40 break, UNM was up 15-10.
At the 3:53 break, UNM was up 27-24. Faris still had not scored for UNM. The Lobos were 6-of-7 from the line and SDSU was 3-of-5. That line work had given UNM its 3-point lead.
Faris cracked the scoreboard in the final minute with a layup to hand UNM a 37-29 gap. That bucket came after Gary absorbed a charge from Spain, creating a turnover. UNM took a 40-29 lead into the locker room when UNM forced a turnover in the final nine seconds. Gary brought the ball down and fed Martinez high in front of the key. Martinez drilled the long trey and the Lobos raced off the court behind a fist-pumping Alford.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner