Stevens: Alford's Lobos Turn The Mountain Corner and See -- Wyoming
Feb. 9, 2012
New Mexico Lobo Men's Basketball -- In The Pit
Saturday: 1:30 p.m., Wyoming Cowboys (18-5, 4-3 MW) at New Mexico Lobos (19-4, 5-2 MW)
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The corner of the Mountain West race will be turned on Saturday and Lobo Coach Steve Alford says his Lobos now can see, "What's on the other side."
Symbolically speaking, the other side beckons with a Mountain West title and opportunities for Lobos to be one of the teams in the hunt, to control their own destiny. But on Saturday there is urgency and immediacy.
The capable and efficient Wyoming Cowboys will stand in front of the Lobos in The Pit looking to dent a few Lobo dreams and brighten a few Cowboy visions.
If Alford's Lobos have indeed learned the urgency of each possession, then they also understand the urgency of each game. A journey of a 1,000 steps is measured by each step and the road to the 2012 MW title is measured by each game and each opponent.
Sure, there are Rebels and Aztecs waiting down the road, but a loss to Wyoming puts the same measure of success - or failure - on a team's record.
For sure, the Cowboys, coached by Larry Shyatt (former Lobo assistant to Gary Colson) will be coming at the Lobos hard. If the `Pokes are to tighten their grip on any dreams of an NCAA at-large bid, they need another signature win. Wyoming beat UNLV in Laramie. It would look good to beat the Lobos in The Pit, too.
The Cowboys also will be looking for payback. The Lobos strolled into Laramie on Jan. 14 and slapped a 10-point loss on Wyoming. UNM then dropped back-to-back games to San Diego State and UNLV before rolling out four wins during Alford's 13 Days of Challenge.
The Lobos are hot. "I see an extra (bounce), a little swag (swagger)," said Alford.
The Lobos beat Colorado State 85-52, beat TCU 71-54, beat Air Force 81-42 and won at Boise State 65-49. "It was a tough stretch," Alford said of the demands he placed on his Lobos.
It wasn't so tough on the scoreboard. Wyoming is looking at a Lobo team that has held four straight opponents to 54 points or less and all four opponents shot under 41 percent from the floor.
Of course, a low-scoring game fits into Wyoming's style. They are patient and precise. They are disciplined, well-coached, efficient, and love to play defense.
The Lobos also are all these things and have Wyoming beat in the talent and depth department. "We can go to our bench and we are losing nothing," said Alford.
There are lots of keys to this game, but, simply put, the `Pokes need to shoot extremely well and hope the Lobos don't.
"They have very good inside-out (weapons)," said Alford. "They slow the game down. They play a possession game. They are very, very sound. They do a good job of making you earn baskets. They don't give away easy points."
Of course, the Lobos would like to sprint in The Pit. Of course, the Cowboys would like to jog - or at least keep the Lobos to a jog.
Wyoming tops the Mountain on defense allowing 54.3 points per game. UNM is No. 2 at 58.2. However, the Lobos score at a 74.6 clip and Wyoming is at 65.6. UNM is plus-16.4 in scoring margin.
The thing about shortening the game (and the scoreboard) by slowing down the pace is that it allows lesser talented teams to sometimes win because they do the fundamental stuff so well. Wyoming does this and did it to Vegas. Alford's teams also honor the fundamentals. Wyoming has no edge here.
The Cowboys have nice balance on the scoreboard behind Leonard Washington (13.2), Luke Martinez (13.1) and Francisco Cruz (12.2). The Lobos have similar balance behind Tony Snell (12.8), Kendall Williams (12.3) and Drew Gordon (12.1).
The Lobos have an advantage off the bench and Alford says he plans to take advantage of that edge Saturday. If the Lobos attack the basket and get the `Pokes into foul trouble, UNM's advantage in numbers will grow. If UNM can run and use that bench to help wear down Wyoming, UNM's advantage grows.
Alford says as his Lobos turn the corner and see the possibilities; he also sees a change in his seniors.
"I think Drew and A.J. (Hardeman) and Phillip (McDonald) are playing with much more urgency, much more purpose and I think they understand the stretch run," said the Lobo coach, referring to both the stretch run of a season and a career.
"It's the last time you go places. It's the last time you play Wyoming at home. All these things become the final deal and you want that final deal to be as special as it possibly can be."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2011-12 ROSTER/STATISICS