Stevens: Alford's Lobos Down Wyoming To Grab Mountain West Title
March 2, 2013
New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -Mountain West - In The Pit
Saturday: New Mexico Lobos 53, Wyoming Cowboys 42
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Wyoming Cowboys went down first - and then the championship nets.
Lobo Coach Steve Alford's "Drive For Five" had the joyous ending he sought as New Mexico pounded down Wyoming 53-42 Saturday afternoon to clinch his program's fifth Mountain West title.
And it all happened on Senior Day in front of a jam-packed Pit.
"There can be ugly play, but the win is always beautiful," said Alford.
For sure, the slow-down game Wyoming brought into The Pit wasn't pretty. There might have been more energy in front of the Cowboys' bench from Coach Larry Shyatt than there was in the Wyoming offense.
"I felt I was watching the movie `Hoosiers' with no shot clock," said Alford of Wyoming's slow-down tempo and the movie based on an Indiana high school championship run in 1954.
"They make you play that way. It's what they decided to do and we needed to be able to handle that and I thought the guys handled it well."
The Lobos handled it well enough to form a perfect ending for New Mexico and The Pit. The championship T-shirts and caps were passed around, Alford said goodbye to the two winnings Lobos ever - Jamal Fenton and Chad Adams - and the ladders were placed under the rims for the parade up to the cutting.
There were more Lobo fans that stayed around for the post-game celebration than most teams have at their games.
The Lobos' win put them in position to clinch an outright title with a win at Nevada or at Air Force. The Lobos no longer need a road win to wear the MW crown alone as Boise State beat Colorado State, 78-65, in Boise Saturday night to elminate the Rams.
"The last thing we are going to do, because we won a championship in season two (MW regular season), is to let up," said Alford.
The pace of Saturday's game probably was to Wyoming's liking. The Cowboys would milk the clock and try to score in the waning seconds of the shot clock. Sometimes the strategy worked.
Often the Cowboys would turn down a decent shot in order to burn more time off the clock and they would end up forcing a "hero" shot over a nasty UNM defense.
They worried too much about the clock and not enough about the scoreboard. It was a fatal mistake.
"We didn't feel like they could make enough jump shots to beat us," said Alford.
The Cowboys shot a miserable 28.1 percent from the field. UNM didn't shoot lights out, gunning at a 35.7 percent clip. "To hold them the way we did in points and shooting percentage, that's outstanding defense," said Alford.
"It's something that we've done," he said referring to winning despite not shooting well. "Our guys have been there and our guys have understood it."
A lot of the game stats were even - except for fouls, free throws and points in the paint. The Cowboys got whistled 22 times to 12 for the Lobos. UNM went 21-of-27 from the line and Wyoming was 3-of-7 - a discrepancy that didn't appear to please Shyatt. "I don't think that my wife would want to know if I got fined," said Shyatt avoiding commentary on the officiating.
"We just played a little harder than them tonight," said Fenton.
The paint points were dominated by Lobos. Alex Kirk had 15 points and Cameron Bairstow had 13. The Twin Towers muscled down nine boards apiece. Kendall Williams dished out six assists and Tony Snell had nine points.
"We just don't' have one main player the nation can focus on," said Adams. "It's a collective group of people who work together every day. I think that's the good thing about our team.
"But we're a defensive team. We don't mind scoring in the 50s and still coming out with a victory."
Alford said Bairstow and Kirk "have been tremendous for us down the stretch. They give us a presence (inside)."
The Lobos were up 25-19 at the half. A key stretch in the second half came at the 5:19 mark when Snell hit a trey off a Williams drive and feed and UNM was up 44-34.
Wyoming's Derrious Gilmore came down and forced a bad shot inside over pressure (was soon pulled) and UNM came down and Williams hit a jumper to push the Lobos up 46-34 with 4:21 to play.
The Cowboys had only one player in double figures: Riley Grabau with 14. Gilmore was 2-of-13 from the field with four turnovers. Larry Nance Jr., had 10 boards.
The Lobos finish the MW season with road games at Nevada and at Air Force and then move into the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas as the No. 1 seed.
The Lobos might have their fifth ring, but they are still fattening up an impressive resume to place in front of the NCAA Selection Committee.
"We are going to make the committee look hard and long at New Mexico, that's for sure," said Alford.
The Lobos will be getting some stern looks in Vegas, too. There are a number of Mountain West teams with solid NCAA resumes, but if you are a Mountain West team not named Lobos, you don't want to be sitting on the NCAA bubble hoping for an at-large bid. You need the automatic bid that awaits in the Thomas & Mack Center.
UNM's Fenton said the Lobos are looking to get "more bling for the ring."
That extra bling will not come easy in Vegas.