FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The University of New Mexico coaching staff managed to keep it a secret for as long it could.
But when its 7-foot, red-headed center Alex Kirk strolled onto the court in a walking boot and street clothes 10 minutes before Saturday’s game in Moby Arena, it was sort of hard for people to miss.
Kirk, a junior from Los Alamos averaging 14.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game this season, saw his 51-game starting streak snapped with a left leg injury. The Lobos coaching staff won’t go into detail about the injury other than to say it’s something they think will improve with rest.
“He’s got an undisclosed leg injury,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said. “It’s not broke. It’s a day-to-day deal.”
While not disclosing the specifics of the injury, Neal added: “He’s been bothered by it for about the last three games. It’s been a progressive thing that we thought we needed to get checked out. They just thought he needed a little time off.”
It’s a similar scenario to when Hugh Greenwood saw his 51-game start streak snap in December because of a right wrist injury he played with for three games before deciding to rest it by not playing UNM’s final three nonconference games.
While UNM still managed to beat Colorado State 68-66, Kirk’s absence was certainly felt.
CSU shot just 32.1 percent in the game, but thanks to 12 offensive rebounds, including 10 in the first half, the Rams were able to stay in the game with 13 second-chance points.
“Our big man that replaced him, O (Obij Aget), did a great job of blocking shots and moving his feet; it’s just a matter of him closing out possessions,” UNM senior Kendall Williams said. “We forget how spoiled we are in terms of how AK closes out possessions.”
CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said the Lobos will greatly miss Kirk if he’s out for any extended period.
“He just changes the game,” Eustachy said. “That hurts them.”