ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kendall Williams had just two points about 33 minutes into Wednesday night’s Mountain West opener against No. 24 UNLV.
It wasn’t a problem.
The Lobos’ leading scorer (14.6 points a game to go with a team-best 4.6 assists a game) believed in his ability to score when it mattered most. He also knew his teammates weren’t about to lose confidence in him, either.
“Most of the time they put the ball in my hands and tonight a couple of them went down,” Williams said when asked about his clutch performance down the stretch of Wednesday’s win.
With 7:01 remaining, Williams hit a free throw to put UNM up 53-51.
His 3-pointer with 6:27 left put UNM up 56-51.
His 3-pointer with 2:15 left put UNM up 60-58.
His free throw with 41 seconds left put UNM up 61-58, which would prove to be enough points to hold off the Rebels in a 65-60 win.
It’s that penchant for carrying his team when needed that has led the 6-foot-4 junior to being named on Thursday as one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award given annually to college basketball’s top point guard.
Williams is the only player from the Mountain West to make the cut from nominee (there were 80 of those named in December, including UNM teammate and point guard Hugh Greenwood) to finalist.
There are just four guards on the final list of 20 for the award who play in the West: Williams, Arizona’s Mark Lyons, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos.
FAN TOSSED: With 13:35 left in the second half of Wednesday night’s win over UNLV in the Pit, a fan wearing a yellow New Mexico state flag T-shirt sitting in the front row behind the north basket gave a shove to Runnin’ Rebels guard Anthony Marshall.
Though the fan quickly put his hands up realizing what he had just done, he was promptly ejected, dropping the game’s sold-out attendance figure from 15,411 to 15,410.
Many UNLV fans quickly, and angrily, took to Twitter and identified the fan as Daniel Romero, who actually lives in Las Vegas, Nev., (no, not Las Vegas, N.M.). Romero was a student at UNLV and his Facebook page indicates he is from Belen and once played on the UNLV Rebel Swag club flag football team.
The Journal has reached out to Romero for comment. UNM identified the season-ticket owners of the seats Romero was sitting in and will send a report of the incident to the Mountain West Conference offices in Denver.
UNM sports information director Frank Mercogliano said Thursday that a person can be banned or suspended from the Pit, but no such decisions had been made as of Thursday evening related to Wednesday’s incident.
A video clip of the incident can be found by CLICKING HERE.
FUN-LOVIN ALFORD: It doesn’t fit the perception most have of Steve Alford, especially considering it involves free throws.
But the sixth-year UNM coach said Wednesday night that he is having so much fun with this year’s squad that he couldn’t help but laugh in the closing minutes of Wednesday’s game. And that was despite the Lobos missing eight of 14 free throws in the final 3:06, giving the Rebels every opportunity to steal a win.
“It’s just a fun team,” Alford said. “It’s a grinding team, because we don’t always do it the easiest way, but it’s a fun team to watch because they just fight like crazy. That’s why inside a minute and we’re missing free throws, and at timeouts or when there’s five fouls (on a UNLV player and there is a break in the action), I’m basically laughing at them (the Lobos players). And we’re out there laughing because they’re just fun. They’re a fun group to watch because of how hard they fight.”
KIRK’S TECHNICAL: Alex Kirk has been a lot of things for the Lobos this season, many of them unexpected.
One thing he hasn’t been is a trash talker.
So when the 7-foot sophomore took a lob pass from Cameron Bairstow over UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett with 2:54 left in the first half and threw down an impressive dunk, it surprised many to see what Kirk did. And what happened next.
After Kirk landed, he turned over his right shoulder and looked directly at Bennett, yelling something back to the player who had been lightheartedly jawing with the Lobos.
“He (the referee) said I said something,” Kirk said while laughing in his postgame news conference. “I’m sorry I said something, I guess.”
WOODEN AWARD: While Williams was the only MWC player left on the Cousy Award list of 20 finalists, two other league players were announced Thursday to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25.
UNLV’s Bennett and San Diego State junior Jamaal Franklin, the defending MWC Player of the Year, both made the cut.
FRESNO SELLOUT? As of Thursday afternoon there were fewer than 70 lower-bowl tickets remaining for Saturday’s game in the Pit against Fresno State.
There were a little more than 100 club-level seats also remaining, according to UNM. Normally club-level seating is $100 per ticket, but the school has discounted those tickets for Saturday’s game to $50.
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— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal