Stevens: Lobos Survive Air Force 75-69; SDSU Is Next
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/11/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

New Mexico-San Diego State Game Notes

March 11, 2010

Box Score |  Quotes |  Notes |  Photo Gallery 1  |  Photo Gallery 2 

Mountain West Conference Tournament
Lobos 75, Air Force 69
Friday: Lobos vs. San Diego State, 7 p.m. (MT)
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB; CBS College Sports
GoLobos.com: Game story, stats, photo gallery

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The champion marches on looking for win No. 30. Cinderella goes back to Colorado Springs proud, but probably frustrated.

Steve Alford's Lobos posted their first-ever Mountain Conference Tournament win by clawing past the Air Force Falcons 75-69 Thursday at the Las Vegas Thomas & Mack Center.

"I haven't experienced that in my career, winning in the first round," said senior Roman Martinez. "It's just a great feeling to know that we could win in the tournament because we hadn't won one yet. But it's a battle.

"Every team in this league wants to go to the (NCAA) tournament. It's a bid for the tournament. Every game's a fight, and a fight to win."

The Lobos definitely should get a fight out of their semifinal opponent: San Diego State.

The Aztecs are on the NCAA bubble and their only certain path into the big tourney is to grab the automatic bid that comes to the MWC tourney champ. However, an Aztec at-large bid definitely would look better with a win over No. 8-ranked New Mexico.

The Aztecs got two free throws in the closing seconds to pull out a 72-71 win over the feisty Colorado State Rams. "We have to rebound better if we want to beat New Mexico," said SDSU coach Steve Fisher. UNM and SDSU split their regular-season battles, both winning on their home court.

The Falcons might have brought enough game to Vegas to upset the Lobos, but they didn't have any answers for the MWC Player of The Year, UNM's Darington Hobson.

Junior Dairese Gary
14 of 15 from line

The talented Lobo junior scored 28 points and brought down 15 rebounds to pace UNM to the quarterfinal win. The Lobos also hit 25 of 30 free throws -- 14 of 15 from Dairese Gary, who finished with 20 points.

"That was a big-time performance by the Player of the Year. We needed that today," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "When you get in season three and season four, you need the players of the year to elevate, and I thought he did that today.

"I thought both teams fought. I give our kids a lot of credit for hanging in there and doing what they needed to do and that's win in March. We've now had more wins than any Lobo team in the history of the school."

Said Hobson: "It's one-and-done (time). We have to play hard against everyone."

The No. 1 seed Lobos reaped the rewards of their regular-season title by earning a first-round game against an Air Force team that finished in the MWC cellar.

But the Flyboys, who advanced to play UNM with a 19-point romp over Wyoming, didn't come to roll over to the more talented Lobos and didn't look anything like a MWC cellar dweller Thursday afternoon.

The hot-shooting Falcons had a 13-12 lead in the first half and were down only a single point heading into the game's stretch run before yielding to the Lobos and Hobson. The Falcons could never pull the lead away from the defensive-proud Lobos, out to add a tourney trophy title to their regular-season crown.

Phillip McDonald on a drive

"We're trying to focus on winning a conference championship, winning games," said Martinez. "We're trying to live in the moment."

UNM had a good moment when it drifted up 48-39 on a Hobson layup. But the emotional Lobo junior was whistled for a technical for his post-shot celebration. Air Force made the two free shots and banged in a baseline trey to cut UNM's lead to 48-44. A Lobo turnover allowed Air Force to make it 48-47.

A huge play for UNM was a Martinez block that led to Dairese Gary finding A.J. Hardeman in transition for a dunk. The Lobos were up 55-49 and the Falcons turned the ball over with 7:41 to play. A Martinez trey handed UNM a 58-49 lead. The Lobos were back in control, up nine points.

UNM called timeout at 2:46, up 65-58. Gary got fouled at 2:26 and pushed UNM up 66-58. Air Force came down and turned it over when Hardeman took a charge. UNM had the ball with 2:12 to play.

Martinez came down and threw up an air ball, but some Lobo came flying through the air to tip the shot into the hole. It was Hobson. UNM was up 68-58 and the Lobos milked their lead and the clock into their 29th win of the season.

The win pleased the sea of red from New Mexico in the Thomas & Mack -- the record-setting fans who turned the Mack into a home away from home for the Lobos.

"It felt like a home game," said Martinez. "There's a bunch of fans. It was a great feeling to have such great fans. You got to love 'em out here in Vegas."

Said Hobson: "We have the most loyal fans in America. As all three of us said, as the year went on, there's a couple games this year we would have lost without them. They were great today. They willed us to victory, really gave us that confidence and that extra energy to get stops at the end of the game. A lot of credit goes to our fans today."

UNM advances to play an Aztec team that beat UNM in San Diego and took the Lobos into overtime in The Pit. The other side of the bracket pits Brigham Young vs. TCU and UNLV against Utah. The Lobos will play at 7 p.m. (MT) on Friday.

"We're not going to stop (with Air Force," said Hobson. "We're going to rest a little bit and turn all our focus on (Friday) because it's going to be a tough game.

"Tomorrow I think we'll come out a lot more loose and have a lot more confidence when it's time to play."

The Lobos shot 46.8 percent from the floor to 54 percent for Air Force. UNM won the board battle 31-22. Air Force went 8 of 12 from the line, outscored there by 17 points.

First Half -- Lobos 37, Air Force 31

Tempo was the key and it's fair to say that both teams did a good job finding the tempo they wanted. However, the pace leaned more in favor of the Lobos.

UNM had several stretches where the Lobos scored out of transition. Those moments hurt the Falcons on the scoreboard. Hobson led UNM in the half with 13 points with Gary adding nine and McDonald eight.

It looked early as though Air Force had studied the wrong scouting report. The Falcons left Martinez open twice on the baseline and twice the Lobo senior burned them with treys for a quick 6-0 UNM lead.

The Falcons neglected to guard the baseline again and McDonald made them pay with a trifecta that put UNM up 9-4. Gary scored on a power drive and got fouled, hit the freebie, and UNM was up 12-4.

Sophomore A.J. Hardeman

The Lobos were playing well. Actually, Air Force wasn't playing that badly on the offensive end and their dribble-drive attacks cut UNM's lead to 12-8 at the 15:16 break. UNM was launching from the outside while Air Force was attacking. A Martinez miss led to another Air Force layup: 12-10. A Gary miss led to Air Force's first trey and the Falcons were up 13-12. The Falcons were on a 9-0 run.

Hobson ended that Air Force run with his first shot of the game, a drive down the lane. His layup pushed UNM up 14-13. The Lobos took that lead into the 11:36 break. Hardeman picked up his second foul and went to the bench at 9:24. A Will Brown block led to a Gary layup and the Lobos were up 16-13. Air Force called time.

The Falcons forced up a long trey and UNM ran in transition. Hobson was fouled attacking the basket and hit two free throws: 18-13. The Lobos' long-range attack has shifted to a more attacking style. It was paying off. A Falcon turnover led to a basket attack by Gary. He rolled in a flip shot and UNM was up 20-13. The Lobos were on an 8-0 run.

Air Force stopped that run with a layup and a free shot: 20-16. Hobson hit a short jumper: 22-16. Brown picked up his second foul at 6:40. He went to the bench and freshman Chad Adams came in.

McDonald worked the baseline for a trey and UNM was up 25-16. Lyons got fouled by McDonald on a drive and hit one: 25-17. Gary was fouled on a drive. The Lobo junior hit two and UNM was up by ten, 27-17. The Falcons were letting the Lobos slip away. At the 3:48 break, the Lobos were up 31-22. The Falcons were doing OK on offense, but were having trouble with UNM's quickness at the other end.

Air Forced wedged a couple of backdoor layups around a long Hobson trey: 33-26. Falcon Derek Brooks converted a one-and-one to make it 34-28. Alford called a 30-second timeout with 1:22 to go. Hobson got payback at the other end converting a one-and-one: 36-28.

A Falcon shot-clock violation gave the Lobos a final offensive run at the basket. Hobson got a putback on a Martinez miss and Air Force's Evan Washington threw in a running trey at the buzzer to form the 37-31 halftime score.

"They are confident right now," said Alford in a halftime TV interview. "We want the game at high tempo. If they can beat us scoring in the 80s, we'll take that."