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UNM's Williams wins Mountain West Player of the Year, Alford top coach

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League champion Lobos sweep top individual honors announced on Monday

To the victor goes the spoils.

The New Mexico Lobos, who led the Mountain West Conference wire-to-wire and more than a week ago clinched the program’s fourth regular season title in the past five seasons and the league tournament’s No. 1 seed, were rewarded handsomely Monday when the league released its all-conference awards.

Junior guard Kendall Williams was named the league’s player of the year and Steve Alford the coach of the year.

UNM junior Kendall Williams, whose 46-point performance came on the big stage of the biggest game of the season at Colorado State, was named Mountain West Conference player of the year. (marla brose/journal)

UNM junior Kendall Williams, whose 46-point performance came on the big stage of the biggest game of the season at Colorado State, was named Mountain West Conference player of the year. (marla brose/journal)

All five UNM starters appeared on at least one all-league ballot with Williams landing on first-team All-Mountain West, sophomore center Alex Kirk on second team, junior guard Tony Snell on third team and UNM’s Australian connection of sophomore guard Hugh Greenwood and junior forward Cameron Bairstow being named honorable mention. Kirk was also named to the all-defensive team.

“We won this league by two full games,” said Alford, who snagged his third league coach of the year honor (also in 2009, 2010) in his sixth season. “We had it clinched with two full games left to play. We never left first place. We didn’t come from behind. … That’s a great body of work.”

NOTE: See a list of all league award winners below.

Because of that body of work for his Lobos (26-5 overall, 13-3), Alford said he had no doubt Williams deserved being named the league’s top player by the voting panel comprised of select media members and the league’s nine coaches.

“I’ve always been a proponent, whether we’ve won it or haven’t won it, that the conference player of the year comes from the league champion,” Alford said. “I’ve just always – that’s the way it was when I was a player. I can remember my freshman year I didn’t win player of the year because we didn’t win our league. It’s just the way it is. You reward teams that do the best body of work.”

Williams becomes the fourth Lobo to win Mountain West player of the year, joining Ruben Douglas (2003), J.R. Giddens (co-POY in 2008) and Darington Hobson (2010).

Williams averaged 13.1 points, 5.3 assists and had a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio in 15 Mountain West games. He said he didn’t care who won the award on what has been a remarkably balanced roster this season, as long as the winner wore cherry and silver.

“Player of the year is the most important player to the team, and the most important team is the one that’s won the most games,” said Williams early Monday, before the announcement. “In terms of our own locker room, it could have been anyone. It could have been Tony (Snell). It could have been Alex (Kirk). … It definitely should have been in our locker room.”

Since scoring a record 46 points in what has been viewed as the championship-clinching game at Colorado State on Feb. 23 (UNM didn’t officially wrap up the league title until beating Wyoming on March 2 in the Pit), Williams showed his versatility by averaging 7.3 assists in his next four games, including a double-double (21 points and 10 assists) in Saturday’s loss at Air Force.

Kirk averaged 12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots per league game. He joins Dairese Gary (2009. 2010) as the only Lobo to make the league’s all-defensive squad, although that honor has only been around for five seasons.

“He’s 7-foot tall with about a 9-foot wing span,” Alford joked. “I think he’s blocked more shots than about five league teams combined, which is an amazing stat. The next amazing stat is how many shots he’s changed.”

It wasn’t quite five teams Kirk topped in the blocked shot department, but his 36 rejections in league games was more than the lowest three of Air Force, Boise State and Colorado State.

Alford, who earns a $10,000 contract incentive for the award, now matches Dave Rose of former Mountain West member BYU as the only coach to win the league coaching honor three times. Alford did it in five seasons, Rose in six.

After his championship net-wearing coach finished speaking with reporters March 2 after the Wyoming victory in the Pit, UNM senior Jamal Fenton said Alford’s success has as much to do with in-game coaching as it does with his year-round, off-court guidance.

“He’s been a good mentor,” Fenton said. “We come in as boys and he coaches us to men. Every day is a life lesson to him. … He took a program that was pretty much average and turned it into a top 20 program. I congratulate him. He played for one of the best coaches that I can say – Bobby Knight – and he’s up for that to me.”

Player of the Year

    Kendall Williams, Jr., Guard, New Mexico

Coach of the Year

    Steve Alford, New Mexico

Defensive Player of the Year

    Khem Birch, So., Forward, UNLV

Newcomer of the Year

    Colton Iverson, Sr., Center, Colorado State

Freshman of the Year

    Anthony Bennett, Fr., Forward, UNLV

Sixth Man of the Year

    Daniel Bejarano, So., Guard, Colorado State

First Team: All-Mountain West

    Kendall Williams, Jr., Guard, New Mexico
    Colton Iverson, Sr., Center, Colorado State
    Jamaal Franklin, Jr., Guard, San Diego State
    Michael Lyons, Sr., Guard, Air Force
    Anthony Bennett, Fr., Forward, UNLV

Second Team: All-Mountain West

    Derrick Marks, So., Guard, Boise State
    Anthony Drmic, So., Forward, Boise State
    Dorian Green, Sr., Guard, Colorado State
    Anthony Marshall, Sr., Guard, UNLV
    Alex Kirk, So., Center, New Mexico

Third Team: All-Mountain West

    Pierce Hornung, Sr., Forward, Colorado State
    Deonte Burton, Jr., Guard, Nevada
    Tony Snell, Jr., Guard, New Mexico
    Chase Tapley, Sr., Guard, San Diego State
    Leonard Washington, Sr., Forward, Wyoming

Honorable Mention: All-Mountain West

    Hugh Greenwood, UNM; Cameron Bairstow, UNM; Wes Eikmeier, CSU; Tyler Johnson, Fresno State; Malik Story, Nevada; Khem Birch, UNLV.

All-Defensive Team

    Khem Birch, So., Forward, UNLV
    Alex Kirk, So., Center, UNM
    Pierce Hornung, Sr., Forward, Colorado State
    Anthony Marshall, Sr., Guard, UNLV
    Leonard Washington, Sr., Forward, Wyoming

CLICK HERE for a look at the ballot from Journal staff writer Geoff Grammer for the All-Mountain West honors.

TOURNEY TIME: The Lobos open their Mountain West Tournament run at 7:30 MDT Wednesday vs. the winner of Tuesday night’s No. 8 Wyoming/No. 9 Nevada play-in game. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network and on the radio on 770 AM.

POLL DROP: After Saturday’s last-second loss at Air Force, UNM dropped three spots in the two major Top 25 polls released Monday. UNM is ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 and 14 in the USA Today coaches poll.

WALKER UPDATE: Junior guard Demetrius Walker remains suspended indefinitely from the Lobos and did not travel to Las Vegas, Nev., with the team on Monday afternoon for the league tournament.

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

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