CINCINNATI — Don’t tell Kendall Williams this, but Steve Alford was late Thursday night.
It wasn’t to the game or to a team function, though, so don’t expect a benching Monday when the Lobos play the Saint Louis Billikens.
Alford kept reporters waiting in the postgame media room for about 20 minutes longer than normal thanks to his former college head coach at Indiana, Bobby Knight, who happened to call the game for ESPN2.
“Sorry I’m late,” Alford told reporters. “I had to talk to coach Knight. And I wasn’t leaving until he said it was time to go.”
As Alford was making his way to the media room from the Lobos’ locker room following the Lobos’ nationally televised 55-54 win at No. 8 Cincinnati, Knight called out from press row, “Steve! Come here a minute.”
Knight then put his arm around Alford and walked him to the end of the court in the nearly empty Fifth Third Arena. He began telling him how he thought the Lobos could get better production from big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow.
Despite the pair having a strong showing in the post (Kirk scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots, including one that clinched the game at the buzzer, while Bairstow had seven points, six rebounds and a block), Knight thought the two stood around too much on offense.
“That’s all coach Knight talked to me about for 20 minutes after the game,” Alford said. “We’ve got to get (Kirk) and Cam (Bairstow) moving more. And I’ll talk to Alex about it because I think coach really liked our team. He liked our bigs, but I’ll be the first to tell Alex that he stands too much.”
Alford pointed out Kirk is just 14 games into the season after missing more than 600 days between games because of back surgery. The coach also admitted he probably played Kirk too many minutes in the first 13 games of the season, considering he is still working his way back into game shape.
Still, there was no denying that even if Kirk was standing around on offense more than Knight liked, he was more aggressive on both ends of the court in the second half than he had been all season. His bullying of the Bearcats’ big men was the difference in the game.
“I think Alex has got a chance to be really special,” Alford said. “We just got to get him moving more.”
MWC BIAS? From about five minutes into the second half of Thursday’s game at Cincinnati through he end of the game, fans in Fifth Third Arena were on the case of game officials David Hall, Randy McCall and Scott Thornley.
The game was as physical as any the Lobos have played this year, but relatively few fouls were called considering the amount of contact on the court. This didn’t sit well with one group of Cincinnati fans sitting directly behind media row who started yelling at the refs about how biased they were for the Mountain West.
It may well have been the first time fans of a Big East program suggested a Mountain West team was getting favorable treatment because of its conference affiliation.
UNM was 6-of-11 from the free throw line to Cincinnati’s 3-of-4.
It is worth noting the referees were a Mountain West crew with all three men — David Hall, Randy McCall, Scott Thornley — having officiated prior UNM games this season. A Big East crew will call next year’s return game in the Pit as part of the contract between the two schools.
It is also worth noting the fouls called were even in the first half — six on each team — and there were 13 fouls called in the game on the Bearcats to 12 on the Lobos.
After the game, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said complaining about officiating does no good.
“All that stuff’s excuses to me,” he said.
REVERSE SAMSON: Demetrius Walker said it was just time. There was nothing more to it than just a regular hair cut with his regular barber.
Lobos fans, however, hope the recent trim he sported Thursday — shedding the trademark fade-style cut that those around the program have come to expect from him — is a fresh start for the struggling junior.
So far, so good. He played 17 productive minutes on both ends of the court, defending well and scoring five points, including 3-pointer.
STOP SCORING RUNS: When UNM lost to South Dakota State a week ago in the Pit, Alford praised Jackrabbits star guard Nate Wolters for, among other things, finding ways to quiet the home crowd by continually stopping Lobos scoring runs before they got out of hand. On Thursday, UNM kept quieting the 10,627 fans in Fifth Third Arena by never letting the Bearcats have more than a 6-0 scoring run at any point of the game.
New Mexico at Saint Louis,
5:30 p.m.; CBS Sports Network;