March 13, 2009
What: Mountain West Conference Tournament
When/Where: March 11-14, Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center
Thursday: Wyoming 75, New Mexico 67
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
LAS VEGAS -- The nail-biting really isn't over for the New Mexico Lobos. It just moves from the basketball court to the TV set. The Lobos' shot at the Mountain West Conference Tournament's automatic NCAA bid went up in smoke Thursday in the Thomas & Mack Center as the Lobos went cold from the 3-point line and the Wyoming Cowboys didn't.
The No. 6 seed Cowboys scratched out a 75-67 upset in the MWC quarterfinals and move on to play the Utah Utes in Friday's semis. The No. 3 seed Lobos end their regular season (21-11).
The Lobos now have to watch TV on Sunday to see if the good things they did at the end of the regular season, plus their MWC regular-season crown, is good enough to pull them into the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The Lobos finished the season winning 10-of-13 games. A NIT bid is almost a certainty. An NCAA bid is wait-and-see.
"It's a sad ending to the season, but we've had a lot of success," said Lobo associate head coach Craig Neal, who spoke for UNM at the post-game media conference. Lobo coach Steve Alford left the arena immediately after the game to fly back to Indiana to attend funeral services for his mother-in-law.
The Lobos went 3-of-23 from behind the line Thursday while Wyoming went 10-of-19. "We missed too many open shots," said Lobo Roman Martinez. "I think we got frustrated at missing the open looks we had. We couldn't get into a rhythm. It was frustrating."
Said Dairese Gary: "I wouldn't say taking too many 3-point shots hurt us, just taking them quicker than normal hurt us."
Gary, who played like a warrior down the stretch, led UNM with 20 points. "He shows our toughness," said Martinez of Gary. Said Neal: "He's just a fierce, fierce competitor. He loves to compete, loves to win. He gave us everything he had tonight."
Gary also was the only Lobo who was hot from behind the line as he went 2-of-3. Senior Chad Toppert went 0-of-8 on treys and Martinez went 1-of-7. Danridge, Phillip McDonald and Nate Garth combined to go 0-of-5 from long range. UNM's 3-of-23 mark was good for 13 percent. The Lobos were 0-of-11 from that range in the second half.
Neal said Toppert "just couldn't get in a rhythm. That happens sometimes." Neal also said the Lobos were not overlooking Wyoming. "We definitely didn't overlook them," he said. "We had chances."
Wyoming ended the game shooting 52.6 percent from the floor, 61.1 percent in the second half. UNM went 35.6 percent on the night, 27.6 percent in the second half. The 'Pokes won the board battle 31-30 while UNM played a better floor game with only nine turnovers to 15 for Wyoming. UNM had seven steals and Wyoming had two.
The Lobos held a 33-29 halftime lead, but Wyoming outscored UNM 46-34 in the second half. Gary was joined in double figures by Danridge with 13 and Daniel Faris with 12. Faris played only 17 minutes as he got into early foul trouble and fouled out with 6:25 to play.
Danridge had scored 29 on Wyoming this past Saturday in Laramie, but the 'Pokes frequently applied help defense on Danridge's drives forcing UNM to gun from long range. The long bombs didn't fall enough to stop the fired up Cowboys.
"I don't think they came out with a different game plan," said Neal. "I just think we missed some shots and they made some shots. It's one of those things where they played hard. They pushed the issue. They played well. You have to give them a lot of credit."
Wyoming pushed four players into double figures with Ewing leading the way with 20 points. Sean Ogirri added 17, going 5-of-9 from behind the line. Tyson Johnson scored 16 points with a 10-of-12 performance from the free throw line. Afam Muojeke had 11 points and Djibril Thiam had 10.
The Lobos ran to an early 27-14 lead in the first half before the Cowboys closed to 33-29 at the half. The momentum the Cowboys found at the end of the first half was carried into the second half.
UNM's last lead of the game was 46-45 with 11:01 to play. The Cowboys went up 49-58 at the 5:29 mark and 68-58 with 1:58 to play. The Lobos came at the Cowboys hard, but Wyoming made big shots and big free throws down the stretch.
The Lobos last chance came at 71-67 after two free throws by Danridge with 38 seconds to play, but Wyoming used the free throw line to seal the win.
The Cowboys were down at the half by four points, but seemed to have found some confidence in the run they made late in the first 20 minutes.
The 'Pokes got back-to-back treys from Ogirri, a transition layup, a layup off a feed and took at 39-37 lead into the 15:55 break. Wyoming's last lead before that came at the 19:33 mark of the first half. Alford also was hit by a technical going into that break and Ewing came out to pop in two to pad Wyoming's gap to 41-37.
Jonathan Will got the Lobos back on track and back on the scoreboard with a drive and a flip layup over the front of the rim. He was fouled and completed the 3-point play to make it 41-40 in Wyoming's favor. Gary did the same thing at 13:43 on a drive and foul. He also made the free one and UNM was back up 43-41.
"It's a sad ending to the season, but we've had a lot of success."
Lobo associate head coach Craig Neal,
"We had a chance, it was 46-41, to push the lead ahead in the second half," said Neal. "We threw the ball away."
Danridge missed a long jumper and Wyoming's Afram Muojeke cherry picked and got a long pass from Ewing that ended in a monster dunk and put the Cowboys back up 47-46. The Cowboys never trailed again. Alford asked for another timeout. The Lobos came out of the break to a bad thing. Wyoming's Adam Waddell powered underneath Faris and went up into Faris' fourth foul at 9:22. Faris went to the bench. Waddell hit one, his only point of the game, and the 'Pokes went up 48-46.
Gary drove again and got fouled by Waddell at 9:01. Gary made one and it was 48-47 Wyoming. Ogirri then trailed a Wyoming break and threw up a way-too-long trey from about 25 feet that slammed the backboard and went in the hole. At the 7:46 break, Wyoming was up 51-47. Tyson Johnson then slipped loose underneath and flipped in a layup. Wyoming was up 53-47 at the 7:10 mark and UNM called a 30-second time -- down six. Faris came back in the game for UNM.
The Lobos lost the ball on a back-court violation. Wyoming went inside to Johnson and Faris went to the bench with his fifth foul with 6:25 to play. Johnson went to the line for the Cowboys and knocked down two to push Wyoming up 55-47.
Toppert got held coming off a pick and made both sides of a one-and-one to slip the Lobos closer at 55-49 with 5:54 to go. Ewing came down and got open on the baseline for a trey: 58-49. Toppert came down and got fouled again by a Cowboy fighting through a screen. The Lobo senior hit two more: 58-51.
The Lobos came out with a soft press. Ugirri had a nice look at a trey and missed. Danridge came back with a 15-footer: 58-53. Wyoming called a timeout at 4:29. The 'Pokes came out of the break and Ewing created on a drive that put Johnson back on the line at 4:07. The Cowboy hit two again: 60-53. The teams went into the 3:58 break at 60-53 with Gary coming out looking at a one-and-one.
The Lobo point guard made both free shots: 60-55. The Lobos continued with a 3/4-court press. Gary fouled Ugirri at 3:51. The Pokes were in the bonus, but Ugirri missed them both badly. Danridge went to work in the lane and was held on a drive at 3:15. The UNM senior made one: 60-56.
"When shots aren't falling, he's the one to go to because he's such a brute, When he drives the ball, he's not afraid to finish with the bigs (big men)."
Martinez missed a trey and Wyoming cherry picked again. Thaim got the breakaway dunk and Brown was called for an intentional foul. Thaim made one of the two free shots: 68-58. Gary drove and flipped in a tough layup and got fouled. He missed the free shot, but UNM was closer at 68-60. Gary fouled Ewing at 1:27. The Cowboy senior made both free shots: 70-60.
Gary drove again. Made it again. Got fouled again. This time he hit the free one: 70-63. Thiam got fouled at 1:12. He made one: 71-63. Gary drove again. Got fouled again. This time before the shot. He got the bonus and hit them both: 71-65.
"When shots aren't falling, he's the one to go to because he's such a brute," said Martinez of Gary. "When he drives the ball, he's not afraid to finish with the bigs (big men)."
Ewing turned the ball over on an offensive foul with 54 seconds to play that ended with Danridge at the line with 38.6 ticks to go. He made them both: 71-67. The UNM press almost caused a 10-second count. Wyoming barely beat the clock and Ewing got fouled at 20.8 seconds. Gary went to the bench with his fifth foul
Ewing made the two free shots: 73-67. Nate Garth threw up a trey, missed, and Wyoming's Johnson was back at the line with 13.8 seconds to go. He made both: 75-67. The scoreboard stayed that way.
The Lobos went up 27-14 early in the first half and then had to hold off a Ewing-led rally to take a 33-29 gap into halftime.
The Lobos were up 8-4 at the first media break at 14:49. Faris had four points, including two on a nice jump hook. Martinez made it 8-4 on kind of a push/tip follow. Wyoming came out shooting 1-of-6 at that point against a solid UNM defense. When Jonathan Wills popped in a jumper to make it 12-4, Wyoming called a timeout trying to regroup the troops.
The 11:37 media break saw the Lobos up 14-5 on a Will's drive. He came out of the timeout and shot a single free shot to push UNM up 15-5. The Cowboys continued to look flustered going against the UNM defense. Gary made it worse for Wyoming by pounding in a couple of treys to give the Lobos a 21-12 lead at the 7:37 break. The good news for Wyoming at that juncture was Ewing finally hit a long trey over a UNM zone. The 'Pokes were down in the turnover category 8-to-2.
Things looked pretty good for UNM after back-to-back baskets by Faris. UNM was up 27-14. A few minutes later it was 27-22 and Alford was calling a timeout with 4:20 left in the first half. Things got good again after the break. Martinez rattled in a trey and was fouled on the shot. He completed the four-point play and UNM was up 31-22.
Ewing then fired up the Cowboys with a double-pump trey up and mostly around Lobo Nate Garth. It found the net and at the 2:13 media break UNM was up 33-28. The game was beginning to look a bit like the nail-biter in Laramie this past Saturday. The 'Pokes scratched out another point and it was 33-29 at halftime.
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