UNM cruises past Washington State
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — ANAHEIM, Calif. – They may not be playing the best basketball among Mountain West Conference teams, but the New Mexico Lobos are certainly having their way with the Pac-12.
On Friday, the Lobos picked up their second victory against a Division I opponent this season, and both have come against the Pac-12 – this time Washington State.
The Lobos (3-2) displayed their most intensity of the young season and whipped the Cougars 72-62 in the consolation bracket of the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center.
76 Classic, Anaheim, Calif.
On Sunday, the Lobos face Boston College (2-3) for fifth place in the event. BC beat UC Riverside 66-62 in overtime earlier Friday.
“We’ve responded when we needed to respond, and we haven’t been able to get into a rhythm yet,” said UNM coach Steve Alford. “That’s not an excuse, it’s just that sometimes you get in a rhythm early, and sometimes it takes awhile. And our team’s not in a rhythm yet.”
The Lobos have looked out of sync this far but were still able to find a way to win at Arizona State of the Pac-12 a week earlier. They get to play yet another Pac-12 opponent Dec. 10 at USC.
On Friday, UNM still showed it has plenty of room for improvement, but had its most complete game of the season and never trailed against Washington State.
It was a big reversal from a night earlier, when New Mexico lost 79-76 to Santa Clara in overtime in a game it led just once in regulation, that at 2-0.
“We had to punch first, that was the big difference from the Santa Clara game,” said Lobo sophomore guard Tony Snell, who had a team-high 21 points. “Our big focus was defense, because the last game wasn’t good. We had to step it up tonight.”
The Lobos did just that, forcing 18 WSU turnovers and holding the Cougars to 44.0 percent (22-of-50) from the floor, including 27.8 percent from 3-point range (5-of-18).
WSU started the game 2-for-12 from the field and committed 10 turnovers as UNM built an early 17-point lead.
Sophomore guard Kendall Williams, who didn’t make a field goal Thursday night, had eight points in the first seven minutes, and the Lobos raced to leads of 13-2, 21-6 and 28-11. Williams finished with 17 points. Each time Washington State made anything resembling a charge, Snell or junior guard Chad Adams came back with a huge basket.
Snell had 13 points in the second half, and scored seven straight for the Lobos – including four field goals after WSU scores.
Adams came off the bench and scored nine of his 11 points in the second half, including four field goals after Cougar scores.
“You have to be able to do that,” Alford said of the run-stopping hoops, “and we were able to do that tonight. Chad and Dominique (Dunning, three points in seven minutes) both gave us a really good lift off the bench. Phillip (McDonald) wasn’t going to be able to go, and we were missing Cam (Bairstow), and we were in serious foul trouble, but Chad was really huge for us.”
McDonald, who is still hobbled by an ankle injury, played just two minutes. Bairstow stayed back at the hotel with a case of food poisoning.
Despite their hot start, the Lobos shot just 43.6 percent (24-of-55) for the game, had 15 turnovers and committed 22 fouls. They have 50 fouls in two games at the tournament.
New Mexico’s inside game also lacked punch once again. Starting senior forward A.J. Hardeman had six points and four boards, and senior post Drew Gordon had eight points and four rebounds.