STEVENS: Lobos Need Pit's Help To Snap Six-Game Losing Skid to BYU
Jan. 16, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The ingredients for one of those legendary "Pit games" isn't always a complicated formula. Sometimes it's as easy as boiling water or burning toast. Or just opening The Pit's doors.
Sometimes all it takes is three little words to make The Pit riled and rowdy at an infamous and deafening level. Words like: Brigham Young University.
That's the formula staring The Pit in the face on Saturday when one of the Mountain West Conference teams Lobo fans most like to beat squares off with Steve Alford's Lobos.
It usually doesn't matter if the Cougs are a good team or a bad team. They always seem to bring out the nasty in The Pit. But it does seem like The Pit gets especially ornery when it realizes the Lobos need that sixth-man help in order to skin Cougars. That's the case Saturday. These Cougars are good.
It's a BYU team that is 14-2 and 2-0 in league.
It's a BYU team that has spanked the Lobos six straight times and has won more Pit games (17) than any other UNM foe.
It's a BYU team that has only lost to teams ranked in the Top 25.
It's a BYU team threatening to run away with the MWC regular-season race unless some other MWC team can jump up and put a dent in the Cougars' league record. Maybe a team like New Mexico with a special gym like The Pit which many times before has nudged the Lobos past superior foes?
Coach Alford is quite certain which is the best team in the MWC. "I don't even think it's close right now," he said. "There is nobody in our league playing at a higher level than BYU right now. It's an early (season) game, but it's a very pivotal game."
The impressive thing about the Cougars isn't simply their record. If you have watched this BYU team play ball, you have seen a talented group of individuals playing at a high level of team ball. The Cougars move well, shoot well, pass well, rebound well and win well.
The Cougars are a model of efficiency and the Lobo will have to do a whole lot of things to chip away at all that efficiency.
"This team may be even better than last year's BYU team," said Alford of the 2008 MWC champs, who finished 14-2 in league. "They have more balance. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us.
"They can hurt you in a lot of ways. They're the best transition team we've played all year. If we take bad shots and turn the ball over, it's going to be layups and threes at the other end."
Of course, there are several ways to slow down running teams. One of the best ways is to make a whole lot of shots, so the Cougars are bringing the ball in-bounds. "Our ability to make shots is going to be a key," said Alford.
The Lobos shot awesome in their 78-53 romp over Air Force this past Saturday. UNM shot 54 percent from the field and 56 percent from behind the line, while holding the Falcons to 39 percent from the field. That's a nice combination of good offense and good defense, but there is a big difference between Cougars and Falcons.
"(BYU) has a lot of weapons on their team," said Lobo center Daniel Faris. "They are a great team. We have to get this game, not only for conference, but for our fans."
To beat the Cougars, you have to do a whole lot of things well, but you also have to contain three BYU guns: 6-7 Lee Cummard, 6-6 Jonathan Tavernari and 6-2 Jimmer Fredette.
Cummard, a senior, probably is the heartbeat of the BYU attack. He averages 18.1 points and 6.1 rebounds. "Their offense starts with him. It doesn't end there," said Alford.
Tavernari is a key BYU weapon, too. He averages 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. Fredette is an outside threat with a 14.6 average and he also is pretty good at finding open teammates.
The Lobos got 30 points from J.R. Giddens last year in The Pit and still lost 70-66. Cummard averaged 17 points vs. UNM in the two games last season. What hurt UNM last year in The Pit loss to BYU was shooting 14.3 percent from 3-point range.
Alford listed several keys for a win over the Cougars, including a great Pit crowd and great confidence from his younger Lobos. "With a young team, they have to believe," he said. "Hopefully, they have enough confidence and belief going into this game that they can do some good."
The Cougars have been rolling and their 16-4 mark in the past 20 games vs. UNM surely doesn`t hurt their confidence stepping into The Pit. BYU tops the MWC in scoring margin (+17.5), field goal percentage (50.9%), rebound margin (+5.2), assists (17.6), 3-point field goal defense (28.6%), and assist/turnover ratio (+1.45).
But the Lobos (10-7, 1-1 MWC) have been playing well, too. UNM has held four straight opponents to under 40 percent shooting. The Lobos are 47-2 since 2004-05 when holding opponents under 60 points.
The Pit could be a huge key here. The Pit loves to get rolling after a Tony Danridge dunk, a Chad Toppert trey or a Faris block. And those three Lobos seniors need The Pit's help in their final home game vs. BYU. They have lost six straight games to the Cougars. That has to hurt!
"I've never beaten BYU," said Faris. "It's an important game. We really need our fans to be there for us."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner