Stevens: Lobos Need To Respect Bulldogs' Bite in Fresno
Feb. 12, 2013
New Mexico Men's Basketball - Mountain West - At Fresno State
Wednesday: 8:05 p.m.(MT) -- No. 19/18 New Mexico (20-4, 7-2 MW) at Fresno State (8-14, 2-7)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In a way, you can say this is a Bulldog of a different color. For sure, it's not the Fresno State Bulldogs, who were kenneled 72-45 in The Pit.
Who are these `Dogs?
That might have been a question coming from the New Mexico Lobos' coaching staff as they viewed recent film on the Fresno State Bulldogs - UNM's foe Wednesday in Fresno, Calif.
Gone is 7-foot Robert Upshaw, suspended for UNM's visit.
The new looks come from Tyler Johnson and Kevin Foster, who did not play in the Bulldogs' Pit stop, and 6-foot-9 Braeden Anderson, a Kansas transfer, who became Bulldog eligible last week.
The Bulldogs also are a different team home and away. They lost 75-53 at San Diego State. They won 64-55 over the UNLV Rebels last week in Fresno's Save Mart Center.
"It's a different team," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford. "There are three players who didn't play in game one that are playing a lot, two of them are starting.
"It's a very scary game because it's a road game."
Williams is UNM's leading scorer. Johnson is Fresno State's leading scorer. Foster tops Fresno's rebounding stats at 6.2 a game and he scored 28 in a win over Cal Poly. Anderson is 6-9. There are new dynamics here.
"A bigger key is Johnson," said Alford. "He adds to their backcourt. He can really shoot it. And now they add some strength inside with the Kansas transfer (Anderson)."
The Mountain West schedule this week promises to create some major gaps in the league standings and the Lobos are one team that does not want to change spots.
They like it at the top and a win at Fresno could create some additional spacing between Lobos and other teams. Consider
"When you are in a league like this, you have to play good basketball to win," said Alford.
Again, the Mountain West pack will not be pulling for Lobos in Fresno. On paper, you have to favor the No. 19/18 Lobos carrying a 20-4 mark at an 8-14 Fresno State team that shares the MW cellar at 2-7 with a fading Wyoming team.
But the `Dogs have some bite - just ask the UNLV team that fell behind by as many as 16 points in Fresno. UNLV's 55 points was the team's lowest output of the season. Fresno held Texas to 55 points in a `Dogs' loss in Austin.
"Obviously, we had our way against them here at home, but they are a different team," said UNM's 6-9 Cameron Bairstow. "They are playing a lot smaller. It's a different look for them."
What makes the Bulldogs tough at home is a defensive pride that gains intensity from the home crowd. The `Dogs yield 61 points per game. They lead the MW in steals per game and are second in 3-point defense.
"Fresno is a very good defensive team," said Alford. "Our concern is where are we going to get scoring?"
The Bulldogs have the same concern. UNM also is junkyard-dog tough on defense yielding a .396 shooting percentage. The `Dogs are not always impressive on offense, averaging a MW-low 60.1 points per game.
However, they are playing better offense of late and that point total is influenced by tempo. These Fresno `Dogs are not greyhounds.
What the Bulldogs do have is confidence from their spanking of Rebels and motivation as they eye the ranked Lobos as yet another proving ground. The `Dogs need confidence. They lost by 27 to a UNM team minus Williams.
Fresno is led in scoring by Johnson with a 12.1 average, but the Bulldogs had four players in double figures vs. UNLV, including Kevin Olekaibe, who had 21 points. Olekaibe had four treys vs. UNLV and went 6-of-8 long range vs. Air Force.
The Bulldogs probably don't match UNM's talent and they don't have the Twin Tower combo (Alex Kirk/Cameron Bairstow) inside. But Fresno does honor some fundamentals of the game. They play defense, rebound, take care of the basketball and typically take good shots.
UNM will look to take advantage of Kirk and Bairstow inside. That Lobo Tower had 35 points and 19 boards in game one.
"We are going to have to make sure we get inside and the attempts the guards get have to be aggressive and confident," said UNM's Williams.
"They are much better at their place. It's going to be another test, similar to Vegas, a lot of guard pressure."
NEW MEXICO LOBOS 2012-13 ROSTER/STATISICS