Stevens: Lobos Shock No. 8 Cincinnati 55-54 on Bearcats' Floor
Dec. 27, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - On The Road
Thursday: New Mexico 55, No. 8 Cincinnati 54
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
More than a few national voters who pushed the New Mexico Lobos out of the national rankings this week probably are re-thinking their ballots - and maybe their thinking.
The New Mexico Lobos walked into hostile Cincinnati territory Thursday night and clawed their way to a 55-54 win, handing the No. 8 ranked and formerly undefeated Bearcats their first loss of the season.
On the Bearcats home court!
The Lobos, who fell from No. 16/17 out of the Top 25 after a Pit loss to South Dakota State, got redemption -- and maybe a return to national ranking -- in a big way.
The Lobos, now 13-1, got a bucket by Tony Snell with 2:28 to play and then muscled down on defense to preserve the one-point win. The Bearcats had a last-second shot at victory, but a jumper by 6-foot-4 Sean Kilpatrick was slapped aside by UNM's 7-foot Alex Kirk.
"I just kind of went out there with my hands up and he was forced to take a tough shot and luckily I got a hand on it," said Kirk.
The Bearcats tried again to beat the buzzer, but a bank shot that fell in off the glass came too late.
The Steve Alford Lobos are now 6-1 in their last seven games against ranked teams and are 64-1 when holding opponents to under 60 points.
"We've been doing this. This isn't anything new," said Alford of the gut-check win. "This team fights. We shot 38 percent on the road and win. We don't even have to talk about how my guys fight. They fight. That's been our M.O all season long. It's been our defense. It's been our fight.
"A really key point is that we have a ranked win on the road. To win this one, it's big time."
Both teams got key buckets from their guards, but the difference in this game was a UNM inside game that produced on the scoreboard. Kirk had 15 points and seven boards while Cameron Bairstow came off the bench with seven points and six boards. Kirk went 6-of-8 from the floor and had three blocks -- one maybe a game-winner.
"(Alex) was tremendous," said Alford. "He just battled. He fought their centers and they are hard to block out, but we kept fighting. We stayed in front of ball and basket and we continued to contest."
Said Kirk: "We kind of showed what we have, what kind of fight we have."
UNM got 16 points from Kendall Williams and 10 point from Snell. The Bearcats got 15 points from Kilpatrick, 14 from JaQuon Parker and 12 points from Cashmere Wright. Kilpatrick went 5-of-22 from the field. The Bearcats shot well from long range - 11-of-26 -- but shot 31.3 percent overall. UNM shot 38.9 percent from the floor.
The Bearcats' big men - Cheikh Mbodj and Justin Jackson - did well on the boards and finished with a combined 18 to hand Cincinnati a 40-35 edge on the glass. But Jackson did not score and Mbodj had only four points. Kirk and Bairstow combined for 22 points and 13 rebounds.
"Anytime we can get a double-double out of that (center) position, it's good," said Alford.
UNM outscored the Bearcats 22-14 in the paint and 14-7 in second-chance points.
The Lobos held a 43-37 lead with 11:31 to play but the Bearcats tied it at 43-all with two treys and the teams see-sawed their way to the dramatic final. Cincinnati had leads of 49-48, 51-50 and 54-53 in the run to the wire, but the Lobos kept answering with points.
At the end, it came down to two excellent teams needing to make big plays in order to pull out the win. It was the Lobos -- and Kirk -- who made the plays.
"We felt good at break being down four points," said Alford. "We got in rhythm in the second half. We're in their building and we hold them to four free throw attempts. That was big."
Second Half: New Mexico 33, Cincinnati 28
The Lobos' Williams hit two early treys and Kirk followed a Greenwood miss with a soft dunk. The big Lobo got fouled on the rim and added the free shot to form a 31-31 tie which carried into the 15:48 media break.
The Lobos grabbed leads of 34-32 and 37-34 on buckets by Kirk and Snell (a trey). The Bearcats hit a trey to form a 37-37 tie and Kirk buried another trey: 40-37. So far, the Lobos' offense looked smoother in the second half and they were taking advantage of Kirk to help open the outside shot. UNM took that 40-37 lead into a break at 11:45 aided by 4-of-6 shooting from long range.
UNM got another trey from Williams and the Lobos had their biggest lead at 43-37. The Bearcats didn't stay in that hole long. They hit back-to-back treys: 43-43.
It was the Lobos turn to respond. They got a layup from Williams and Walker scored on a baseline drive. UNM was up 47-43. The Lobos had some opportunities to expand that lead but let them slip away. UNM took that 47-43 lead into a timeout at 8:07. UNM made a mistake on an in-bounds play leaving Cincinnati's best shooter, Kilpatrick, open on the baseline. He buried the open three: 47-46.
The action got hot down the stretch as both teams obviously didn't want to lose. Both teams took turns grabbing the lead. A Williams' trey at 3:11 made it 53-51 UNM. Wright then banged in a trey at 2:47 and the home team was back up, 54-53.
Snell made it 55-54 in UNM's favor and a defensive stop by UNM led to a Snell runner in the lane that missed. The Bearcats called time at 1:17 with the ball and down 55-54. Wright missed a trey and UNM got the long rebound. UNM called time with 29 seconds to play and 17 seconds on the shot clock. Williams rushed a shot, missed, and Cincinnati got the board with 15.7 to play. They called time with 14.4 to play. Would the Bearcats drive or shoot the trey? The Lobo middle had definitely been difficult for the Bearcats to penetrate.
"I thought a big key was we didn't allow them to get the middle dribble-drive," said Alford.
The Lobos had fouls to waste and twice fouled the Bearcats on drives that did not produce free throws. Cincinnati had an in-bounds play with 4.5 seconds to play. This time a foul would put a Bearcat on the line shooting a one-and-one. The Bears ran offs several screens but could not get the ball in - calling for a timeout.
The Bearcats probably worked too hard to get the ball to Kilpatrick and he forced a shot over Kirk, which was blocked.
First Half: Cincinnati 26, New Mexico 22
The Lobos played pretty good defense in the first half and outshot the Bearcats by nine percent from the floor, but were down five - 26-22 - at the break. The Lobos were hurt in the turnover battle losing it 8-to-3 and UNM was out rebounded 24-18. The Bearcats also had five treys to one for the Lobos.
The Lobos were led in the half inside by Alex Kirk with six points and Cameron Bairstow with four points. The two UNM bigs combined to go 5-of-6 from the field, but they did have trouble getting touches against the tall and physical Bearcat bigs. Kirk had five boards and Bairstow had three. The 22 first-half points were the fewest points UNM scored in a half this season.
The Bearcats cracked the ice first on a Sean Kilpatrick trey at 16:42. He backed that up with another trey before UNM's Williams hit two at the line to make it 6-2. At the 14:12 media break, the Bearcats were up 9-4 off a Cashmere Wright trey.
The Lobos scratched into 9-all tie when Bairstow scored underneath. Kilpatrick got loose on the edge for another bomb and Cincinnati carried a 12-9 into the 11:48 media break. The Bearcats pulled into leads of 14-9 and 19-14 and carried that five-point lead into the 7:42 break. At the 3:43 break, UNM had cut its hole to 19-16 on a bucket inside by Chad Adams. The Bearcats had missed 10 consecutive shots.
UNM got four points from Kirk, including a baseline dunk, and the Lobos went into the half down 26-22.