ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Stuns Previously Unbeaten Bearcats
CINCINNATI – Well, they responded.
After an embarrassing home loss Saturday that knocked New Mexico from the national rankings, the Lobos used a national stage Thursday to scrap their way back into the national conversation with a 55-54 win over No. 8 Cincinnati, handing the Bearcats their first loss of the season.
“We played with a lot of fight, and we had to,” said UNM junior guard Kendall Williams, whose game-high 16 points came thanks in large part to four second-half 3-pointers. “We’re a team that has proven to have a lot of fight and maybe we didn’t show it enough in that loss (Saturday to South Dakota State). But tonight, top to bottom, from the last guy on the bench to the coaches to the starting five, I think we showed the kind of fight we have to show to be the team we can be.”
New Mexico at Saint Louis, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 770 AM
The Lobos held the Bearcats, who entered averaging 79.8 points, to just 31.3 percent shooting and fewer than 30 points in each half on their home court in front of 10,627 shocked fans.
While UNM (13-1) matched every big shot the Bearcats (12-1) hit down the stretch, it was fitting that a defensive stop at the buzzer clinched UNM’s biggest victory of the season.
A Tony Snell jumper with 2:25 left put the Lobos up 55-54 when both teams clamped down on defense.
Missed shot after missed shot down the stretch led to the Bearcats inbounding the ball under their basket with 4.5 seconds remaining.
Alex Kirk knew what was coming as Cincinnati’s leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick, who shot just 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) and scored 15 points in the game, curled around a screen at the 3-point line in front of the Bearcats’ bench. Kirk, a 7-foot sophomore from Los Alamos, said he didn’t follow his man off the screen, instead getting in tight on Kilpatrick and swatting away the 6-foot-4 junior’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“He was forced to take a tough shot,” Kirk said matter-of-factly, “and luckily I got a hand on it.”
For Cincinnati, the loss was a bitter pill to swallow and seemed to give coach Mick Cronin the same helpless feeling as UNM coach Steve Alford had Saturday after his then-nationally ranked team was simply out-worked by South Dakota State in a 70-65 loss in the Pit.
“Welcome to being ranked eighth in the country, which is bye, bye, and the other team willing to do whatever they’ve got to do to get the win,” Cronin said. “(They played) on every block-out like their life depended on it, on every loose ball like their life is on the line.”
The Bearcats were 11-of-26 (42.3 percent) from 3-point range, but were just 9-of-38 (23.7 percent) on shots inside the arc.
“We had our chance,” Cronin said. “We let them hang around by ineptitude on the offensive end.”
The Lobos’ defense had plenty to do with that.
Kirk and Cameron Bairstow’s defense in the post was helped tremendously by the Lobos’ guards ability to stop the athletic Cincinnati perimeter players from penetrating from the top of the key.
“I thought a big key was we didn’t allow them to get the middle dribble-drive,” Alford said. “On tape they’re extremely dangerous when they’re allowed to drive middle. I thought we took that away.”
Kirk, who added three blocks to his 15-point, seven-rebound stat line, scored nine of his points in less than four minutes in the second half. He dunked back an offensive rebound with 16:01 left in the second half and was fouled. His free throw tied the game at 31-31. He then hit a free throw on UNM’s next possession and drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 12:10 remaining to put UNM up 40-37.
Cincinnati grabbed 16 offensive rebounds but managed just seven second-chance points in the game compared with 14 second-chance points off 10 offensive rebounds for UNM.
“It’s about not quitting,” Alford said. “We probably could have done a better job on block-outs, but what I appreciate with our guys is when they did get offensive rebounds, we didn’t stop. If you watch(Cincinnati) on tape, they get an offensive rebound and dunk. They didn’t get many dunks tonight.”
Alford aid he saw from his team on Thursday exactly what he had hoped for after the South Dakota State loss.
“It’s been our defense, it’s been our fight,” Alford said. “And I think when you play Cincinnati, you better have that. … I just thought we had a tremendous effort.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal