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Alford: Final loss shouldn't define season

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Coach stresses success prior to NCAA Tournament, calls it historic

An embarrassing loss to Harvard in a game that mattered most should not define the 2012-13 season for the New Mexico Lobos.

That was the message a sometimes defensive Steve Alford hammered home time and again Wednesday when he met with local media to put a bow on his team’s 29-6 season that included Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament championships and ended with his No. 3-seeded Lobos getting upset last week in Salt Lake City in its first game of the NCAA Tournament by No. 14 Harvard.

In a 31-minute news conference, Alford repeatedly emphasized the team’s success – calling it, in many ways, the most successful season in UNM history, citing the RPI, national exposure and the exceeding of preseason expectations.

He also often differentiated between the Lobos’ successful season and their NCAA showing – acknowledging their game against Harvard was their worst performance of the year.

He said he was unaware of national media or local fan criticism that said the season was a disappointment because of the final loss.

NOTE: Click here for a partial transcript of Wednesday’s press conference.

“There’s no way, if you’ve got any kind of basketball intellect at all, where you would say we had a bad season,” Alford said.

He added he hasn’t “lived here 40-50 years” as many Lobo fans have and thus doesn’t have the same Sweet 16-or-bust mentality.

Asked about the timing of his new 10-year contract, which could pay him up to $2 million per season, coming the day before the Harvard loss, Alford said: “See Paul Krebs,” referring to UNM’s athletic director. He added: “It was a pretty big commitment on my part especially what’s out there and the opportunities that are out there to show my loyalty to UNM.”

And what can fans expect from next year’s team? Alford said a hardworking team as always, then added: “What do you want me to promise, a national championship? I don’t know what you’re asking.”

Here is a brief sampling of the news conference:

Question: What are your thoughts on the season?

Alford: “We picked the worst day of the year to play our worst game. That was by far the worst game we played all year long. It was unfortunate that it was in the NCAA Tournament, in the second round, and Harvard took advantage of it. …

“Does it taste bad right now because the way the season (ended)? Yeah, of course. We wanted to advance. It’s not so much a Sweet 16 thing, though. I will say that. I haven’t lived here for 40-50 years. I’ve just been here six years and we’re building a program here and I think we’re building it the right way.”

• • •

Question: Have you been surprised at all by the national media or the fans’ reaction?

Alford: “What are you referring to?”

Question: It’s been coming pretty heavy that the season was a disappointment because of the loss to Harvard.

Alford: “I haven’t seen any of that. I haven’t seen anything about our season being a disappointment. … There’s a big difference in NCAA and your season. There’s no way, if you’ve got any kind of basketball intellect at all, where you would say we had a bad season. …

“I think any reaction that makes any sense that we had a bad season is ludicrous.”

• • •

Question: Will this NCAA Tournament performance of the Mountain West (2-5 in the tournament) lead to second-guessing around the nation about the league next season?

Alford: “If that is, you’re discriminating because we’re not a power conference. What about the Pac (Pac 12) two years ago? They were awful. Now the darling of the NCAA Tournament this year is the Pac. … If you want to go with that logic, that’s fine. It doesn’t happen to the BCS leagues. … (But) if we want to compete with the big boys as far as leagues go, we’ve got to do better in the NCAA Tournament.”

• • •

Question: Was the timing of the contract news, the day before the NCAA Tournament …

Alford: “See Paul Krebs. … I gave a lot to stay here. I took away incentives that I’ve made for five consecutive years. Six consecutive years. I took those out of my contract. I think it was a pretty big commitment, not only on the school’s part, but it was a pretty big commitment on my part especially what’s out there and the opportunities that are out there to show my loyalty to UNM and how much I appreciate UNM and how much I want to continue to build this thing.”

• • •

Question: What expectations can Lobos fans have next season?

Alford: “We’re going to put a great product out and we’re going to try to win as many games as we possibly can. What do you want me to promise a national championship? I don’t know what you’re asking. We don’t make promises. I haven’t made promises. My only promise to fans, administration or anyone else is we will put a product out there that is very representative of our university. We will play hard. We’ll play unselfish and we will battle for championships.”

• • •

Question: What is Demetrius Walker’s status?

Alford: “He’s no longer on the team. … You’re always disappointed. When things don’t work out for your student-athletes, you’re always disappointed. It’s a program decision. We wish him well. We’ll help him in anything we can, but it just can’t be here at UNM.”

• • •

Question: Is Tony Snell ready for the NBA?

Alford: “That’s not up to me. I’m not in the NBA. We’ve given our 2 cents to him and the family – the importance of making a rational, good decision. I think it’s always best to stay in school unless you’re an automatic first-round pick. If you’re an automatic first-round pick, you’re guaranteed money and that’s hard to pass up on when you look at all the other variables. If you’re not a sure lock, guaranteed first-round pick, I think that is a really tremendous gamble, especially in Tony’s case where you’re going to be a part of an outstanding team.”

• • •

Question: Are you guys recruiting based on …

Alford: “We recruit every day. We recruit every day regardless of how many scholarships we have. We recruit every single day. So whether Tony stays or doesn’t, or comes back, is not going to impact what our day-to-day operations are.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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