March 3, 2010
Wednesday: Lobos 73, TCU 66
Up Next: Lobos at MWC Tournament, March 10-13, Las Vegas, Nev.
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was Roman Martinez's night; his day by Governor proclamation. You would have thought the TCU Horned Frogs would have remembered that, and remembered to guard the Lobos' clutch senior in clutch time.
They didn't. They paid for it. And Roman Martinez and the Lobos (28-3, 14-2) cut down the 2010 Mountain West Championship nets at the end of an amazing 14-0 run through the heart of a league that breaks so many hearts and so many backs.
In case you had forgotten, Steve Alford's Lobos began this MWC journey 0-2 and looking up at everyone. They finished it looking down.
"It's been an incredible journey that these young men have taken us all on," said Alford. "These kids have taken us on a journey that's not going to sink in for a while. Those things (14-game run) don't happen very often. It was amazing."
Maybe the most amazing thing at the end of UNM's 73-66 win over TCU was that The Pit was still packed for the post-game celebration. It was a Pit party climaxed with Lobos cutting down nets and Martinez telling The Pit that any future MWC championship wannabes have to come through New Mexico to be Kings.
The Lobos are now back-to-back MWC champions. This year they stand alone for the first time since 1994.
Martinez was the star at the end of the night, and also made star-like, Martinez-like plays in helping knock down a gutsy TCU team that didn't come to The Pit to roll over to the league champs.
"We don't just play for championships. We play for the state of New Mexico. I think that's what separates us from a lot of teams."
Lobo Roman Martinez
UNM's special and only senior threw in back-to-back baseline treys -- one from the east side and one from the west -- to push the Lobos up 62-51 and give the Lobos the margin they needed to ride to a 73-66 MWC cliff-hanger Wednesday night in The Pit.
He also sealed the deal for UNM in the closing seconds with a short flip shot under the glass off a feed from Darington Hobson. That bucket pushed UNM up 69-64 with 44 seconds to play, and cleared the road for a wild Pit celebration.
It was a night stuffed with as many goodies and fancies as a Christmas-morning tree. The Lobos -- all Lobos -- finally got what they wanted, too.
But it wasn't easy. Maybe it wasn't meant to be. When you climb to the top of the MWC mountain and look down on eight other teams, maybe you should have a few scraped knees, close calls, and calls to glory.
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The UNM Bookstore will open at 10 a.m. Thursday selling Lobo men's basketball MWC Championship gear.
"It was special to be able to celebrate this thing with our fans," said Alford. "This is as good a chemistry team as I've ever had. These guys are all about winning."
You start the package opening in The Pit with the win over TCU. Sure, this was a subplot in the celebration of Lobos and championships and Martinez, but it was still a necessary notch to add to the Lobos' season.
With the victory, the Lobos sit alone atop the MWC and can tell BYU, UNLV, well, everyone: "Maybe next year, guys."
This package from Fort Worth wasn't an easy bundle to unwrap. The Horned Frogs showed up quick, loose and more than game to be spoilers: Grinches in March. TCU did a pretty good job of it for about 35 minutes out of a 40-minute game.
They took good shots. Took care of the ball and even outplayed the Lobos - for a while. But you don't outplay Lobos often in The Pit and no way these Lobos were going to let Martinez leave The Pit on a losing note. The nets just wouldn't have come down as sweetly.
"Cutting down the nets in the home gym is an amazing thing, an amazing feeling," said Martinez. "It's unbelievable what we've done this year.
"But we're not through yet. We want to be a special team. We want to show the nation that we can compete at a high level. Just to know we are going to the (NCAA) dance, that's an amazing feeling."
The Lobos' three upperclassmen -- Hobson (20), Martinez (19) and Dairese Gary (16) -- led UNM in scoring. "They've had an amazing will," said Alford.
The Lobos won the board battle 45-37. Both teams had nine turnovers. UNM shot 42.6 percent to TCU's 40.7 percent.
"Now, we are the No. 1 seed," said Alford looking ahead to UNM's 1 p.m. game next Thursday in the MWC Tournament in Vegas. "We get eight days to rest and we need it. This team hasn't had any easy contests over the past few weeks. But that's the way it is when you have a target on your back."
Second Half -- Lobos 42, TCU 37
UNM scratched out of a 29-23 hole, carried a 31-29 lead into the half and -- well, the Frogs still wouldn't go away.
Martinez banged in a baseline trey to put the Lobos up 34-32 early in the second half. At the 15:19 media break, TCU was back up by one, 39-38. At the 12:59 break, a Gary to Will Brown layup knotted the score at 44-all.
The Lobos then threw out a Pit-rocking run. A TCU miss led to a Nate Garth to Hobson layup: 46-44. A TCU turnover led to a Hobson to Gary layup: 48-44. TCU got help from a media break at 11:25. It was a key juncture for the visitors from Fort Worth. Could they hang around for a stretch run at the MWC champions?
A TCU miss led to a Hobson to McDonald trey: 51-44. A TCU turnover led to a Garth to Brown dunk: 53-47. The Pit was going strong and TCU called a quick and wise 30-second timeout, down six with 9:55 to go.
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Hobson pushed UNM up 56-49 on a drive plus a free throw. UNM was up seven with 7:45 to go. Then the Frogs made their critical mistake. They went into a zone and forgot to float over toward Martinez.
He scored in front of the UNM bench to make it 59-51. He got the board at the other end. He scored on the west-side baseline and UNM had a 62-51 gap likely big enough to carry to the end.
It got better for UNM. Hobson extended UNM to 64-53 on a short drive and glass shot. Give TCU credit. The Frogs came back again. It was 64-59 at the 3:33 break. Still close enough to spoil the evening. UNM was up 65-60, with the ball, when Alford called time with 1:46 to go.
TCU came out and fouled Hardeman away from the ball. The strategy didn't work. Hardeman made both charity shots and the Lobos were up 67-60. TCU got a free throw, a UNM turnover, and a trey to make it 67-64 with an even minute to play.
The Martinez struck again. He worked his way under the glass as Hobson worked the baseline. Hobson, with eyes like an eagle, rarely misses an open teammate. He flipped a short pass to Martinez, who flipped in a short shot that put the Lobos up 69-64. TCU missed a long trey and that pretty much ended it. The Lobos mopped up at the line and put the 73-66 win in the record books.
First Half -- Lobos 31, TCU 29
TCU took the Lobos' best shot for about 17 minutes and didn't really flinch. Then The Pit threw a late punch.
The Frogs came out of the 3:34 media break up 29-23. The Lobos' best player down the stretch was their Sixth Man called The Pit. The crowd got nasty and TCU buckled a bit.
The Lobos used that hometown energy to stage a short and quick rally. The Lobos got a trey from Martinez with 50 ticks to go and a driving layup by Hobson with two seconds to go. UNM went into the midway break up by two points.
TCU definitely hung around for a half. The Horned Frogs were down only 16-13 at the 10:48 mark. The Frogs were playing quick and loose, taking care of the ball and getting some nice looks.
At 9:48, UNM's third turnover led to a TCU layup and TCU was down 16-15. UNM went up 18-15 on a quick pass from Hardeman to Hobson underneath. TCU called time at the 8:48 mark. At the 7:37 media break, UNM was up 20-17.
The Frog then slowly pulled out in front. When a baseline trey pushed the Frogs up 29-23, Alford called a timeout to discuss a few things. The Lobos didn't look exactly focused. TCU looked like a bullet coming at a target. The target was the No. 8 ranked Lobos.
At the 3:34 media break, TCU was still up 29-23. The Frogs had two turnovers to seven for the Lobos. TCU was up six and had six points off UNM turnovers. The Lobos had no turnover points. The Pit and the Lobos formed a nasty alliance down the stretch. It formed a 8-0 run.
Hobson led UNM in the first half with 10 points and six boards. Gary had eight points and Martinez had two treys for six points. UNM shot 39.3 percent in the first half to 41.4 percent for the Frogs. UNM won the board battle 22-to-17. TCU had five turnovers to seven for the Lobos.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is the former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.