SALT LAKE CITY – For much of New Mexico, this pain won’t go away quickly.
For better or worse, the Lobos’ 68-62 NCAA Tournament upset loss to No. 14 seed Harvard on Thursday night was still a hot topic Friday, both in Albuquerque and around the college basketball world.
Many in the Lobo Nation were still trying to figure out how the No. 10 ranked team that thumped its chest all season seeking national respect could look so outmanned and outclassed by a group of Ivy Leaguers who weren’t given any shot at beating the Lobos.
“I’m devastated, man,” Chad Adams, fighting back tears, said after playing his final game Thursday. Added the UNM senior forward and Highland High alumnus: “I really didn’t expect to be playing my last collegiate game today.”
His devastation was certainly felt back home in Albuquerque.
It was the topic on radio shows, at local businesses and restaurants, and newspaper readers wrote in unprecedented numbers to the Journal’s Sports Speak Up! (firstname.lastname@example.org).
One reader equated it to the sinking of the Titanic.
“Both suffered from a serious design flaw. The Titanic didn’t have enough life boats and the Lobos couldn’t shoot the ball,” wrote “Bud in Albuquerque.”
“Both flaws resulted in an unexpected loss with disastrous consequences for their fans and the ship going down.”
There was plenty of finger-pointing – at the players for overconfidence; at coach Steve Alford, who a day earlier announced with athletic director Paul Krebs agreement on a new 10-year contract; and at the media for creating more hype than the team could live up to.
Many saw it as opportunity that New Mexico – which has never won more than one game in the NCAA Tournament since the field has expanded to at least 64 teams – once again squandered.
Janette McClelland, a musician who plays jazz on the trombone on city streets, tweeted Friday: “I had several co-workers ask me to play #blues today, they were #devastated about the Lobos loss to Hahvahd.”
Dennis Latta, a former Journal sports editor and the original director of the New Mexico Sports Authority, wrote a column on the website loboland.com declaring after 33 years of covering the Lobos basketball team, he is done and will never attend another game.
Latta unwittingly became the subject of quite a bit of Twitter buzz as a result.
“I’ve been around Lobo basketball for 33 seasons,” Latta wrote. “For 32 of those seasons, I knew that UNM had a team that could fold and lose to anyone at any time. I never got my expectations too high because a collapse was possible anytime they walked out on that floor. I thought this team was different. I was convinced that this Lobo team was for real. It had experience, a good front line and a good backcourt and good chemistry and was smart.
“I was wrong.”
The column went viral, mainly from other bloggers in disbelief that a writer, even for a fan website, would react so melodramatically.
Lobo fans and bloggers, however, weren’t the only ones surprised by the outcome.
Hope Schwartz, one of five journalists who made the trip to Salt Lake City for the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, admitted she had to scramble to buy new clothes to cover today’s game against Arizona.
“I only packed for one game,” she said.
Her classmate and colleague Martin Kessler pointed out that some of that crew, who also had to rebook hotel rooms and change flight plans back to Massachusetts, hadn’t brought all their homework since they thought they’d be returning home this weekend.
For all the side effects of the unexpected Lobos loss, which include tournament brackets across the Land of Enchantment being ripped to shreds, the most impactful to the program desperately and aggressively pursuing national respect has been the perception that UNM is simply an overrated team that can’t win in the Big Dance.
“It’s always a setback,” coach Alford said late Thursday night. “You never like ending your season. I’ve got a group of guys in the locker room that played extremely hard and well all year long. We had a tremendous year.”
While about 90 percent of the Journal’s Speakup responses expressed criticism or frustration, there were those who pledged thick-and-thin support.
“We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation to the players, coaches, and staff of our outstanding men’s and women’s basketball teams for another great season of Lobo basketball,” read one signed by Frank and Carol Ruvolo. “… It was a great year on and off the court, and we are extremely proud of our teams. Thanks for a great year! We are already looking forward to next year.”
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— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal