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The National Stage Is Set

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — UNM’s Victory Over Aztecs Sets Up Huge Game Against UNLV

The hottest team in the Mountain West Conference is now the best team in the Mountain West Conference.

The streaking New Mexico Lobos made it six straight victories and gained a major measure of revenge – and certainly some national respect – by pounding 13th-ranked San Diego State 77-67 on the road Wednesday.

The win left UNM (21-4, 7-2) alone at the top of the league with five games left.

Postgame video online Watch video interviews with Steve Alford and Lobo players after their win at San Diego State at LOBOS on PAGE D5Lobos Take National Stagefrom PAGE D1lenny ignelzi/the associated press Lobo Hugh Greenwood (3) guards San Diego State’s James Rahon during the first half on Wednesday night. Greenwood had four rebounds and made a big 3-point shot with 4:06 left.Saturday

It’s the third straight year the Lobos have beaten a ranked foe on the road, and this one served as a wake-up call to the NCAA Tournament committee, which will select its field next month.

“This was the big one,” said UNM coach Steve Alford, also noting that the SDSU meeting began a four-game stretch that includes three road contests.

“We know how big next week is – at Colorado State, at TCU. It’s going to be a war for us. So we needed momentum, we needed a proving game, and this was a pretty good proving game for us. Now (it’s) obviously a huge game on Saturday morning.”

On Saturday, the Lobos try to enhance their national reputation when they play 11th-ranked UNLV (22-5, 6-3) in what promises to be an electric Pit atmosphere for a nationally televised game on CBS.

If the Lobos win that one?

“We’re a top-25 team,” said Lobo sophomore Kendall Williams. “We’ve got a couple of days to prepare for them, but I feel we’re a top-25 team.”

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard is leading the Lobos toward that status as he also makes a serious run at league player of the year honors. On Wednesday, he was 7-of-10 from the floor, 5-of-6 from 3-point range and had a game-high 21 points.

BOARD FEAST: Lobo senior forward Drew Gordon was a beast in the paint and on the boards against the Aztecs (20-5, 6-3). The 6-9 Gordon had 17 points and 17 rebounds in one of the best games of his career. Gordon has been inconsistent this season, especially in league play, but has had a combined 24 points and 30 rebounds in the past two wins.

That inconsistency was obviously on his mind when he was asked about the rash of recent upsets in the league.

“It’s competition. It happens every day,” Gordon said. “You win some, lose some. People play good games; people play bad games. It’s the luck of the draw, basically. Fortunately, this was a good game.”

WIN SOME, LOSE SOME IS RIGHT: Gordon’s comment was prophetic.

The Lobos took a huge win over the Aztecs on Wednesday, then lost a big battle against them Thursday.

Las Vegas high school star Winston Shepard, one of the nation’s top prep recruits and the Lobos’ No. 1 priority for the spring signing class, announced he’s heading to San Diego State next season.

The 6-9 Shepard made an official recruiting visit to UNM for the Lobo Howl and said the Lobos were high on his final list. But Thursday he told the San Diego Union-Tribune: “I just felt comfortable with coach (Steve) Fisher and the staff. I had a great visit. I could really see myself fitting it with the guys. The things that I do best I felt like would fit in – ballhandling, passing, playing multiple positions, attacking the rim.”

Shepard’s stock skyrocketed when he led Findlay Prep to a 73-61 win against Bishop Gorman last month in a battle of nationally ranked high school teams from the Las Vegas area that was televised by ESPNU.

Shepard had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists and held the nation’s top ranked player – 6-foot-5 wing Shabazz Muhammad – to eight points through the first three quarters.

HUGH IS HEALTHY – SO IS JAMAL: Much was made about freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood not being at full strength in the Lobos’ losses to San Diego State and UNLV last month after an ankle injury. Greenwood was at full strength Wednesday, but it was junior backup Jamal Fenton who was the standout point guard for the Lobos.

Fenton had 15 points and three assists. He hit a big 3-pointer during a key 8-0 run early in the game and scored two straight Lobo hoops with the Aztecs trying to make runs midway through the second half.

Greenwood struggled to a 1-of-5 night from the floor and got beat a number of times on defense by explosive SDSU guard Xavier Thames. But the 6-2 Lobo freshman came up with four rebounds and hit one of the biggest shots of the night, a 3-pointer with 4:06 left after the Aztecs had scored four straight points to trim UNM’s lead to 65-57. Those were his only points on the night.

WHERE’S THE SNELL GAME? Sophomore guard Tony Snell is no longer the team’s leading scorer. Snell, who didn’t take a shot during the Lobos’ 48-38 win against Wyoming last week, took four Wednesday. He missed them all and went scoreless once again. Williams now leads the team in scoring at 12.5 points a game, while Snell has dipped to 11.8. Snell has scored a combined 19 points in the past four games, with 13 of those coming in a rout of Boise State. He has made just two or fewer field goals in five of the Lobos’ nine league games.

SWIZZY STICKS IT: With the game tied 38-38 early in the second half, backup junior guard Chad Adams buried a 3 to ignite a 9-0 run and give the Lobos control.

Adams hit 3-of-4 shots and scored eight points in just seven minutes of action before fouling out in a gutsy performance.

“Swiz-Nation, Swizzy as we like to call him,” Williams said with a grin. “Chad, he’s a beast. He can shoot any place on the floor. He’s automatic. He makes the plays, and he’s as good a teammate as they come.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal