Stevens: To Make The MW Turn at 7-1, UNM Has to Beat Nevada
Feb. 1, 2013
New Mexico Men's Basketball - Mountain West - In The Pit
Saturday: 6 p.m. MT); Nevada (11-9, 2-4) at No. 20/22 New Mexico Lobos (18-3, 5-1 MW) - Bob King Floor
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Can a team on the edge of Mountain West elimination and the loser of five of seven games turn a major miracle in The Pit against the nation's No. 20 team?
Hit The Pit Saturday and find out.
For sure, the Nevada Wolfpack is heading toward a motivated pack of Lobos. The halfway mark of the Mountain West race is two games away and for Steve Alford's Lobos the message and the goal is simple: finish with two wins.
If the Lobos do exactly that, they will enter the second half of this Mountain race with a gaudy 7-1 record and at least a one-game lead in the loss column - over somebody.
"We have the opportunity to take care of business at home and be in a really good position going into the second half of the season," said Alford.
To roll out that 2-0 finish, the Lobo will have to handle Nevada on Saturday and back that up with a win Wednesday over surprising Air Force. Both games are in The Pit which brings a different type of pressure to the Lobos.
They are expected to win in The Pit.
There also is the pressure of the Nevada Wolfpack, a solid team paced by Deonte Burton and Malid Story, who are averaging 16.5 points and 15.5 points, respectively. They are solid guards and both members of the Wolfpack 1,000-points Club.
"You can't let those two go off on you," said Alford. "They work well together and are one of the top guard tandems in the conference. They present a challenge."
Burton and Story have started in 87 consecutive games for Nevada. They have combined for 46.3 percent of Nevada's offense this season. In MW games, Burton is the league's top scorer with an 18.2 average.
Jerry Evans Jr., has scored in double figures in Nevada's past three games - 14 vs. SDSU, 12 vs. Boise State, 14 at UNLV. He averages eight boards in MW play.
There is pressure because Nevada can be very good. There is pressure to focus for 40 minutes, because Nevada can be very average.
There is pressure because UNM is expected to defend its turf. There is pressure because the Nevada game has a few markings of a trap game.
The Wolfpack is 11-9 on the year and 2-4 in the Mountain. All four Nevada MW losses have been in double figures. They are good enough to hang around and scare a team at the end. They are inconsistent enough not to hang around.
Nevada has posted some curious numbers. They outrebounded Wyoming 48-31 and 23-3 on the offensive end. The Wolfpack has outrebounded four teams by double digits. They make 74.5 percent of their free throws, so you don't want to send them to the line. Their bench has outscored the enemy bench 11 times and once produced 50 points.
The Pack, which went 28-7 a year ago, has wins over Fresno State and Boise State and losses to Air Force, Wyoming, San Diego State and UNLV. Their 75-59 win over Boise State was a solid one, but the Boise Broncos have been struggling of late. Nevada has been up and down.
The Wolfpack surely are viewed by most MW observers as the type of team you beat on your court. They are 2-6 on the road. The Wolfpack was not considered to be a threat for the 2013 title, but that doesn't mean they can't be a spoiler.
If they do not spoil things for Alford's Lobos on Saturday, the Wolfpack will pick up their fifth league loss and likely be out of the race. Five losses might be OK at the end of this thing, not at the halfway mark.
The race is still on. The Lobos are a game up on UNLV, San Diego State, Air Force and Colorado State. In the second half of the MW, UNM has to go to Air Force, UNLV and Colorado State. An Aztecs' visit to The Pit is not a guaranteed win night for UNM. UNM would be wise to turn the corner at 7-1.
It is reasonable to expect the 2013 champion to come out of that pack since all other Mountain West teams have at least four losses.
The MW pack of contenders going into Saturday tilts include UNM at 5-1 and CSU, UNLV, SDSU and Air Force at 4-2. You can bet that pack will be pulling for Nevada on Saturday.
The Lobos are coming off a solid win at Wyoming which gives UNM a 2-1 road mark. They have not lost in The Pit.
The game in Laramie again showed UNM's balance as two role players - Cameron Bairstow and Hugh Greenwood - jumped into the spotlight. The Lobos played exceptional interior defense, ran a smooth offense, and played tough.
UNM's Kendall Williams still tops the Lobos' scoring chart with a 14.0 average followed by Tony Snell at 12.0 and Alex Kirk at 11.3. The 7-foot Kirk is the top board man with a 7.5 average followed by the crafty Greenwood at 5.3 and Bairstow at 4.7.
The Lobos depth off the bench doesn't always impress you on the scoreboard, but it is a bench that helps in a lot of different way, including the defensive end. But that's kind of a key to UNM's 18-3 run so far in 2012-13: Find a way.
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2012-13 ROSTER/STATISICS