For Steve Alford's Lobos, 2012 Was A Very Good Year
Jan. 3, 2013
Lobo Men's Basketball: A Look Back at the Calendar Year of 2012
Albuquerque, N.M. --- With the turning of a new year, it's an appropriate time to look back and remember good times. There are more than a few moments -- and more than a few wins -- memorable for the Lobos and their fans from the calendar year of 2012.
The year included a 12-game winning streak, the tail-end of a 13-game winning streak, a Mountain West regular-season title (the third in four years), the Mountain West Tournament championship, and the championship of the 2012 Paradise Jam. Overall, UNM went 27-7 in the calendar year, including a 6-3 mark against ranked teams.
January started with a pair of non-conference wins over Houston Baptist and North Dakota, games precipitated by the Mountain West being cut to a 14-game league schedule. The 85-57 win over North Dakota saw a season-high six players hit for double figures in points. UNM then opened league play with a gritty 72-62 road win over Wyoming that saw UNM shoot .523 percent from the field.
The Lobos would then drop two games, losing to nationally-ranked foes San Diego State and UNLV; two teams UNM would exact revenge against later in the year. UNM got back on track with an 85-52 drubbing of Colorado State in The Pit, a win that would start a seven-game winning streak.
UNM then defeated TCU 71-54 and Air Force on the road 81-42 in a game in which UNM shot .593 from the field. That closed out a successful January at 6-2, setting the stage for the following months.
February saw UNM continue its roll, first with a 16-point win at Boise State followed by a 48-38 old-school, low-scoring win over Wyoming on "Turn Back the Clock" day. UNM wore "Old School" uniforms featuring the old "Licking Lobo" logo. It was a fashion statement that saw the Lobos get plenty of accolades from ESPN's Uni-Watch and Darren Rovell.
That led UNM (6-2 MW) into a critical, two-game swing facing nationally-ranked San Diego State on the road and then UNLV in The Pit in front of a national television audience on CBS The Lobos were looking for revenge from a 75-70 Pit loss to SDSU, and they got it. UNM led nearly from start to finish. Kendall Williams scored 21 points and Drew Gordon had 17 points and 17 rebounds as UNM won going away 77-67. Three days later it was home to a frenzied Pit to face the talented Rebels in front of the CBS cameras. The Lobos delivered.
The Rebels hammered UNM 80-63 in Vegas, but this time it was Lobos who did the pounding: 65-45, behind Drew Gordon's 27-point, 20-rebound performance. UNM held UNLV to just .311 shooting from the field. The wins put UNM up two games in the standing with four to play.
The momentum from that seven-game winning streak couldn't be sustained. UNM lost its lead over SDSU and UNLV with a pair of Lobo road losses at Colorado State and at TCU. UNM ended February with an 86-56 win over Air Force, putting UNM at 9-4 in the conference, and placing a Mountain West title a win out of UNM's hands. The Lobos ended February at 5-2. Drew Gordon earned Mountain West Player of the Week honors, and the Lobos cracked the national polls at No. 18.
March is the time for basketball madness and that held true for UNM and its fans as the Lobos took off on an epic three-week stretch. The Lobos opened the month at home with the opportunity to win the Mountain West regular-season title for the third time in four years.
For UNM, it came down to beating the last-place Boise State Broncos - in The Pit. While BSU put up a fight, ultimately it was no match for the title-hungry Lobos. UNM won 76-61, touching off a rousing postgame ceremony that saw The Pit and UNM bid farewell to seniors Drew Gordon, A.J. Hardeman, and Phillip McDonald. Vice President Paul Krebs presented the MW championship trophy to head Coach Steve Alford, and UNM was champions again. That ceremony would soon repeat itself - on a different court.
At the close of regular-season MW play, senior Drew Gordon was named First Team All-Mountain West and Kendall Williams was placed on the second team. However, the team with the MW trophy and the league's best defense did not garner an individual award. No Lobo made the all-defensive team. That snub was akin to waking a sleeping dog -- an angry sleeping dog.
If UNM needed a little extra motivation, the Lobos got it. Even with Drew Gordon earning All-District honors, UNM was angry. The motivated Lobos were about to take out some frustrations on the Mountain West.
First up in the Vegas Thomas & Mack was a game with Air Force. UNM led nearly the whole way. The Lobos got a game-high 19 points off the bench from Demetrius Walker. That win set the stage for a semifinal showdown and rubber match with host UNLV. The Rebels came out on fire, opening a 17-4 lead on the Lobos. UNM would eventually claw into a first-half lead before a late UNLV trey gave the Rebels a 34-31 halftime lead.
UNM fought back. The game was tied 64-all when Demetrius Walker converted both ends of a one-and-one with 1:34 left for a 66-64 UNM lead. After UNLV went 1-for-2 from the line, Walker again hit two free throws with 50 seconds left and UNM was up 68-65. UNM would hit free throws down the stretch and come away with a 72-67 win and a date in the championship game with talented San Diego State.
This time there was no slow start for the Lobos. UNM opened up a 15-4 lead and led the entire game by as many as 17 points. San Diego State eventually whittled the lead down to five points with 1:21 to go, but UNM was again steady from the line. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lobos had their first Mountain West Tournament title under Steve Alford and a date in the NCAA Tournament was guaranteed. UNM's Drew Gordon was the MW tourney MVP.
One day later, UNM players, coaches, and invited guests gathered at the Embassy Suites where UNM learned of its NCAA fate: a No. 5 seed. The Lobos would face No. 12 Long Beach State in the second round, with a match-up with either Davidson or Louisville going to the winner.
National press abounded prior to the meeting with the 49ers, and UNM picked up its second NCAA win in the Alford era with a 75-68 win. The big blow was a three-pointer with less than five minutes to play that gave UNM the lead for good. UNM advanced to a shot at the Sweet 16 with No. 4 Louisville in the way. In an epic game that saw UNM rally from 15 down in the second half to cut the deficit to just two points, UNM almost pulled off the comeback of the tournament. The Lobos fell 59-56 after Drew Gordon's desperation heave was wide.
The Lobos ended March with two titles and an NCAA Tournament win, going 5-1, and giving UNM momentum into the offseason.
April - October
The Lobos finished the year as the only team west of the Mississippi to be ranked in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, finishing 23rd. The Lobos also learned of its opponent in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge -- Indiana State, giving Steve Alford a chance to return and coach in his home state.
Upcoming sophomore guard Hugh Greenwood was added to the Australian National Team roster. He survived until the final cuts for the Australian Olympic team. The Lobo basketball team picked up a perfect 1000 in the NCAA APR report, and the Lobos officially finished the 2011-12 season ranked 16th in attendance, the 46th straight year that UNM finished in the Top 25 in attendance.
The offseason saw some staff changes, as assistant coach Ryan Miller departed for Missouri, and strength coach Mark Paulsen retired. Steve Alford promoted Drew Adams to assistant coach from director of operations, and he also promoted Craig Snow from video coordinator to operations director. UNM added Diego Baca, a UNM graduate, as the new strength coach, and Brandon Mason as video coordinator.
New Mexico was added to the prestigious ESPN 24-Hours of College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon, drawing Davidson for a midnight tip in The Pit. It was a chance to showcase Lobo basketball at home to the nation.
When grades were posted, UNM got its 11th semester out of 12 with a 2.7 grade point average or better. Steve Alford was invited and played in the Jerry Colangelo College Basketball Hall of Fame Golf Tournament, representing New Mexico.
All that summer action led up to the Lobo Howl, which was attended by approximately 8,000 crazed fans that saw a UNM scrimmage, a dunk contest, and a three-point contest won by Kory Alford. That set the stage for the beginning of the 2012-13 season, and what a beginning it was.
November opened (after a pair of exhibition games) with a late start to the season for UNM as the Lobos didn't tip off their season until November 13. That tip was at 12:05 a.m. on November 13. The Lobos and the Davidson Wildcats played in front of almost 15,000 fans in The Pit, easily the largest crowd for a midnight tip-off in the history of the ESPN marathon. In front of a national TV audience, the Lobos fell behind by 16 points in the second half, and then unleashed one of the greatest comebacks in school history.
UNM pulled off the second-largest home comeback and the second-largest second-half comeback in school history with an 86-81 win fueled by Tony Snell's 25 points and Kendall Williams' 17. That win was followed less than 12 hours later by a long flight to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam.
At the Jam, the Lobos were tasked to start with a pesky UIC team that featured a couple of transfers. UNM was able to earn a hard-fought 66-59 win behind 23 points from Kendall Williams. That win earned UNM a day off and a catamaran snorkeling trip that was featured on CBS Sports. The Lobos advanced to play George Mason in the semifinals. It was a game and an ending that provided one of the defining moments of the 2012-13 season.
The Lobos trailed for basically the entire second half, and found themselves down 69-64 with less than 15 seconds left. UNM inbounded to Kendall Williams who dribbled and dropped a 35-foot, three-point bomb with 11.2 seconds left to give UNM a puncher's chance at 69-67. After UNM called time and set up the defense, Williams made a critical play with a steal of the inbounds pass. He drove right and found freshman Cleveland Thomas in the corner. Thomas shot faked, drove baseline and found Tony Snell, whose contested 3-pointer from the left side hit nothing but net with 1.8 seconds left. The Lobos had an impossible 70-69 win, and a date with nationally-ranked Connecticut in the championship game.
Against UConn, the Lobos were facing a team that was 5-0 in the Paradise Jam, having won the tournament in 2008. UNM got 15 points and five assists from Kendall Williams, and the team went a perfect 21-for-21 from the free-throw line to set a school record. UNM won the Paradise Jam title on CBS Sports (66-60), pushing UNM to 4-0. Williams was the Paradise Jam MVP.
UNM would finish the month a perfect 7-0 with wins over Idaho, Portland, and Mercer, a team that beat Florida State in its next outing. UNM cracked the national polls for the third time in four seasons. Tony Snell was Mountain West Player of the Week.
The Lobos pushed their winning streak to 12 with a couple of big gut-check wins. UNM picked up an overtime road win at Indiana State, and also a pair of double-digit comebacks. UNM came from 10 down to beat USC in The Pit and from 11 down to beat New Mexico State in Las Cruces. The win in Cruces gave UNM a sweep of Aggies.
The 12-game winning streak to open the season was the second time in four seasons that the Lobos started 12-0. It marked the fifth time in six years that UNM clinched at least an .800 winning percentage with 12 wins in the non-conference season. The streak ended in The Pit with a loss to South Dakota State, but the Lobos rebounded with a rousing 55-54 win at No. 8 and undefeated Cincinnati. Alex Kirk scored 15 points with seven rebounds and three blocks, including a block of Cincinnati's 3-point attempt for the win. Kirk earned his first career Mountain West Player of the Week award for his efforts. UNM was ranked nearly the entire month. The Lobos ended the month 6-2, and the year 27-7 overall.
With the titles, a host of great games, epic comebacks, and heroic individual performances, the calendar year of 2012 will be hard to top. Of course, the calendar year of 2013 gets off to a stirring start with nationally-ranked UNLV coming to The Pit on January 9. That contest starts at 8 p.m. with only Club Level seating remaining.