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March 21 is a humbling anniversary in Lobo hoops history

Steve Alford and his Lobos were riding high into Salt Lake City on this date in 2013. But that’s when UNM, a No. 3 seed and a vogue Final Four pick by some, suffered a humbling NCAA Tournament loss to Harvard. (Chris Detrick/Salt Lake Tribune)

The first week of the NCAA Tournament is, in my estimation, the best extended sporting event in the world every year.

The four days of basketball – Thursday through Sunday in mid-March – cutting a field of 64 teams (after First Four games) down to a sweet batch of 16 has it all.

Buzzer beaters. Drama. Crumbled up brackets. Wearing out that favorite spot on the couch. The annual frantic Google search to relearn what channel TRU TV is on so you can see that No. 12 seed you’ve never heard of upset that No. 5 power conference team that has a great football program.

We miss it.

We long for it.

A lot of us would trade almost anything to have it back right now to pass the time.

Then again, this time of year for some college hoops fans hasn’t always been kind.

More specifically, Saturday’s date – March 21 according to the “One Shining Moment” desk calendar I have next to me in my makeshift home office this week – has been particularly cruel to University of New Mexico fans.

It didn’t start out this way, I promise. But in an effort to fill the Big Dance void with a little historical “on this date” look back at what Lobo hoops did this week while we’re all wishing there were real games on, I stumbled across the realization that March 21 can probably make a case for being the worst date Lobo basketball history.

No, there were no chili fries. And there’s no “-gate” attached to some scandal describing what happened on the date. But consider this: According to the team’s media guide, the Lobos have played only three times on March 21 and are 0-3 in those games, with two carrying particular significance.

The culprits:

• March 21, 2011 (NIT): Alabama 74, Lobos 67

Not much to say here. It was an NIT loss. Certainly nothing the team was happy with, but Lobo fans aren’t exactly waking up with cold sweats at night remembering a seven-point road loss to the top-seeded Crimson Tide, who happened to have had a 17-game home win streak that extended to 18 that night in Tuscaloosa. A freshman named Kendall Williams led the Lobos with 18 points, and another freshman named Cameron Bairstow came off the bench to score six points in 10 minutes.

• March 21, 2013 (NCAA Tournament, Round 1): No. 14 Harvard 68, No. 3 New Mexico 62

In Salt Lake City, in the final game coached by Steve Alford at UNM, a 6-foot-5 wing named Laurent Rivard knocked down open 3-pointer after open 3-pointer – an agonizing five in all – to lead the Ivy League’s Harvard Crimson to one of that year’s biggest upsets.

It left the 29-win Lobos, a trendy Final Four pick boasting the Mountain West Player of the Year (Kendall Williams) and three future NBA players (Bairstow, Tony Snell and Alex Kirk) wondering where their dream season went wrong.

The loss was one day after news of Alford agreeing to a new 10-year deal with UNM. He lasted until the end of the month, then went to UCLA.

• March 21, 2014 (NCAA Tournament, Round 1): No. 10 Stanford 58, No. 7 New Mexico 53

In St. Louis, the 27-win Lobos of Craig Neal’s first season as coach came out as flat, falling behind 20-4 in the first six minutes as Stanford’s Chasson Randle went on to a 23-point game. UNM’s point total was its second lowest of the season.

The game was the last played for Bairstow, Kirk and Williams and remains the last time the Lobos have played in any postseason event beyond the MWC tournament.

Don Flanagan coached the University of New Mexico women to a WNIT win over Alabama-Birmingham on March 21, 2001. (Josh Stephenson/Journal file)

UNM WOMEN’S HOOPS: There are mixed results – 2-1 to be exact – on March 21.

First off, there was a March 21, 1981, win over Alaska-Fairbanks in the Northern Lights Invitational in Anchorage that was so memorable, the UNM media guide doesn’t name the tournament or list it among the program’s postseason games and the Alaska-Fairbanks media guide lists the game as having been played against New Mexico State.

In 2001, the Lobos won 77-55 in a WNIT quarterfinal game in the Pit over Alabama-Birmingham en route to that season’s historic run to the WNIT championship game.

More recently UNM lost 83-75 in a WNIT home game to Denver on March 21, 2019, to end its season.

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