ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — To New Mexico’s 86-56 blowout of Air Force on Wednesday, firmly affix an asterisk.
This, after all, was the Air Force team that Steve Alford owns as surely as he owns the best head of hair in the Mountain West Conference. He’s now 11-0 against the Falcons, who — other than newcomer/short-timer Boise State — are the only MWC team that hasn’t defeated an Alford-coached club during his five seasons at UNM.
Sure, the Lobos, coming off road losses to Colorado State and TCU, thumped the Falcons by 30 points. But they’d hammered them by 39 earlier at the Academy, in a game that closely resembled Wednesday’s.
And, sure, Air Force (13-14, 3-10) has improved dramatically since the firing of coach Jeff Reynolds. The Falcons, under interim coach Dave Pilipovich, won at Wyoming and beat San Diego State at home.
But, Wednesday, Air Force seemingly failed to note that Colorado State and TCU had consistently gotten the ball out of UNM big man Drew Gordon’s hands by aggressively double-teaming him in the post. An unfettered Gordon torched AFA’s matchup-zone defense for 10 points in the first 6 1/2 minutes.
Air Force damaged itself further by missing nine of its first 11 3-point attempts. Before the Falcons hit a third 3, they were down 29-11.
If the Falcons aren’t hitting 3s, they aren’t going to get much off their vaunted back-cuts. And they didn’t.
This game was akin to matching mixed-martial arts star Carlos Condit, who was introduced to the Pit crowd at halftime, against the little tyke who does those E*Trade commercials.
Well, OK — enough about our asterisk. How did the Lobos play in improving their record to 23-6 and 9-4?
Quite well, thanks for asking.
Gordon, playing his first game since the publication of a Sports Illustrated article that cast him in a highly unfavorable light during his two years at UCLA, seemed unfazed in notching the 27th double-double (points and rebounds) of his abbreviated Lobo career.
Alford, asked about the article, said neither he nor Gordon would comment until after the season. But Alford did comment a bit, saying the Gordon he knows is not the Gordon described in the SI story.
“I haven’t even seen (the story),” Alford said. “All I know is, we’ve had him for 2 1/2, three years now. He’s been a double-double guy for us; he’s been an incredible player for us; he’s been a great person for us.”
Another encouraging sign for the Lobos: 21 assists on 29 made field goals.
At Colorado State and TCU, the New Mexico offense lacked flow. Against Air Force, guards Kendall Williams and Tony Snell scored only 12 points between them — but also combined for 12 assists.
“I thought we had better ball movement tonight,” Alford said, “and I thought we had better people movement.”
Speaking of people movement, Hugh Greenwood, the Lobos’ starting freshman point guard, is almost completely recovered from a bad high ankle sprain suffered against Houston Baptist on Jan. 3. Wednesday, he shot 7-of-9 from the field, 5-of-7 on 3-pointers.
The ankle bone is not connected to the wrist bone, but there could be a connection even so.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Greenwood said. “… When I don’t think about (the ankle), then I’m fine.”
With only a home game against Boise State separating them from at least a tie for their third Mountain West regular-season title during Alford’s tenure, are the Lobos fine?
Perhaps. But, remember, New Mexico has never won a Mountain West Tournament under Alford.
Get another asterisk ready.
— This article appeared on page D4 of the Albuquerque Journal