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Lobo Kirk makes his presence felt

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CSU’s Iverson says Lobo ‘bothered him’

Down the road, when fans tell the story of the 2012-13 New Mexico Lobos, Kendall Williams’ 46-point outburst against Colorado State in the hostile confines of Moby Arena will be at or near the beginning of the conversation.

As it should.

But in the grand scheme of things, the subplot brewing in Fort Collins on Saturday was that Alex Kirk, UNM’s 7-foot sophomore center, had a career-defining performance of his own – one that may prove to have more lasting impact on the Lobos this season and beyond.

Wednesday
San Diego State at No. 16 New Mexico, 8:15 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM

Yes, Kirk has long since moved past being considered an under-the-radar big man in the Mountain West. But Saturday was different. He not only racked up 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots on the road against a CSU team vying for first place in the the league standings, he did it by holding his own physically. And it came against a player in Colton Iverson considered to be one of the strongest, most physical big men in the nation.

“He was definitely the more physical player this game,” Iverson said. “I let him bother me and I can’t let that happen.”

Well, “bother” is a relative term. Iverson still managed 26 points and 15 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive boards. But it was clear his matchup with Kirk was not going to carry the Rams to home victory No. 28 in a row Saturday.

That’s because Kirk, slowed with flu-like symptoms in the first contest with CSU, played the toughest, most physical game of his UNM career – a performance that had the Lobos not had probably would have made Williams’ heroics go for naught.

“I don’t know if it was a standstill,” UNM coach Steve Alford said of the Iverson/Kirk battle, “but it was pretty close.”

Kirk said it is one he wouldn’t mind having again in the postseason with Iverson, who is a fifth-year center playing the final month of his college career.

“I think he kind of got the edge at the end with some free throws when I fouled out, but he’s a great player” Kirk said, referring to his foul-out with a minute remaining.

Iverson had five of his 26 points and two of his 15 rebounds after Kirk fouled out. The head-to-head in the first 39 minutes was 19-10-3 for Kirk and 21-13-1 for Iverson.

“I know he’s a senior,” Kirk said, “but maybe we’ll see that battle again in the Mountain West tournament.”

OVER THE LINE? Kirk came out in Saturday’s game on fire, scoring eight of UNM’s first 14 points in the first 6:30.

Part of the reason may have been because of how the CSU student section chose to taunt the Lobos’ big man.

While the Rams fans waved numerous oversized photos of various people plastered on posterboard during the game, two in particular stood out to Kirk: pictures of his grandma and grandpa, the latter of whom died eight years ago according to Kirk.

“I thought it was funny at first,” Kirk said, referring to when he saw the posters in pregame warm ups. “Then I was kind of like that’s kind of weird. But a crowd can do whatever they want to do.”

Kirk was unclear where the Rams fans located the photos, but assumes it was somehow online.

WINNING LOBOS: With Saturday’s win, seniors Jamal Fenton and Chad Adams became UNM’s all-time winningest players with 103 career victories, passing the mark set last season by Phillip McDonald and A.J. Hardeman.

VEGAS BOUND?: Lobo fans looking for a ride to the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., may purchase bus fare and a three-night stay at Circus Circus from Tix for Kids, a non-profit group that’s using the trip as one of its annual fundraisers. The bus leaves at midnight March 13 and returns after the March 16 afternoon men’s championship game.

There are multiple packages available, but the most standard for bus and hotel is $250 per person. The deadline to reserve a spot is Saturday. For more information call Bobby Aragon at 505-980-4579.

WALKER GROUNDED: Junior guard Demetrius Walker did not travel with UNM to the CSU game. He’s nursing a knee injury suffered Feb. 13 at Fresno State. He has not practiced fully with the team since.

CLOSING TIME: The story is getting repetitive. UNM manages to stay in an ugly game until the final minutes when it pulls away for a victory.

Saturday, the Lobos were down 70-64 with 6:40 to play before closing on a 27-12 scoring run.

“The last five minutes of games, we’ve been pretty good. We were really good in the last five minutes of this game,” Alford said. “We talk about it all the time – about winning time. That’s why at the Pit, that last media timeout, we talk about winning time. Our locker room has won championships. They’ve got a championship mind-set. They know time and score very well.”

Kirk said it has been a mind-set that took hold of the team early on when the Lobos closed out hard in a come-from-behind victory in the season opener Nov. 13 against Davidson.

“It’s kind of been like that all season,” Kirk said. “We understand what we’ve got to do.”

Asked what UNM did in those closing minutes Saturday to get the win, CSU senior guard Dorian Green said it wasn’t anything fancy.

“They just played better than us, made more plays then we did,” Green said. “They didn’t do anything that was surprising; they just played better.”

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

— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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