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Lobos look to bigs for a win

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Harvard’s tallest starter is 6-7 compared with 7-foot Kirk

SALT LAKE CITY – These Harvard kids have pulled an all-nighter or two cramming for a big test.

New Mexico’s Kendall Williams shoots during practice Wednesday as the Lobos prepare to face the Harvard Crimson in the NCAA Tournament tonight. (RICK BOWMER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

New Mexico’s Kendall Williams shoots during practice Wednesday as the Lobos prepare to face the Harvard Crimson in the NCAA Tournament tonight. (RICK BOWMER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Maybe that’s why Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, site of tonight’s NCAA Tournament second round matchup between the No. 14 seed Harvard and No. 3 seed New Mexico, the Crimson players still hadn’t reviewed any game film on the Lobos.

“We have been focussing on us,” Harvard junior guard Laurent Rivard said. “We know in general that they’re a big team.”

With the Crimson (19-9) not starting a player above 6-foot-7, and UNM having the big man tandem of 7-foot sophomore center Alex Kirk and 6-9 junior power forward Cameron Bairstow, it probably doesn’t take a genius to see the Crimson players are right.

UNM (29-5) has a decided size advantage over the Ivy League champions and while they plan to exploit it at, it isn’t really a change from what has become the norm of the Lobos as of late.

“With me and Cam down low, there has been an emphasis to us getting the ball in down low and then getting it back out to these guys,” Kirk said as he sat on a media stage next to Tony Snell and Kendall Williams. “It’s a normal game for us. We will try to attack them and see where their weaknesses are, and we will try to exploit that and get the win.”

Harvard’s go-to guy this season has been freshman Siyani Chambers, the 6-foot point guard who this season became the first freshman ever to earn first team All-Ivy League honors after averaging 12.9 points and 5.7 assists per game.

Chambers, Wesley Saunders (16.5 points per game) and Rivard (10.4) combine for nearly 60 percent of Harvard’s offense, but it’s their defense that starts the Crimson show according to head coach Tommy Amaker – a trait he reminded reporters probably stems from the same source as why Alford instills a defense-first mindset with the Lobos.

“We built our program based on defense,” said Amaker. “That was one of the things that we came in and wanted to instill and have a big pillar in the growth and the development of our program. I learned that from coach K (Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski) and I’m sure coach K probably learned that directly from coach (Bobby) Knight.”

Alford and Krzyzewski both played for Knight – Alford at Indiana and Krzyzewski at Army. Alford’s 1987 national champion Hoosiers team beat Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils in Amaker’s final college game.

“We had the opportunity to play for the two best minds, in my opinion, the game has seen,” Alford said.

Alford said he anticipates Harvard, despite their general lack of size, to be a tough out because they don’t hurt themselves, a trait he says his Lobos and the Crimson share because of the similar coaching roots of their coaches.

Amaker said he doesn’t think Alford gets enough credit for how well he’s coached either at UNM or when both coached in the Big Ten – Amaker at Michigan and Alford at Iowa.

“We recognize how good this team is,” Amaker said of the Lobos. “This is an outstanding basketball team, and Steve has been able to build an outstanding basketball program there with great balance. I think when you look at their team, you see balance throughout their roster.”

NCAA Tournament:No. 3 UNM vs. No. 14 Harvard, Salt Lake City, 7:50 p.m., TNT, 770 AM. Line: Lobos by 11.

FREE THROWS: One aspect of UNM’s game in particular that worries Amaker and Harvard is the Lobos ability to get to the free-throw line.

“They get fouled an incredible amount of times, and I think that’s one of the bigger stats you look at,” Amaker said.

The Lobos have been oft criticized for getting home-cooked whistled at home in the Pit ,while not getting the same benefit of the doubt away from home. This season’s numbers indicate they’re getting to the line in all their games, albeit at a much more moderate rate away from Albuquerque.

This season, UNM made 581 free throws in 805 attempts (72.2 percent). That was 260 more made free throws than their opponents (7.6 points per game entering the NCAA Tournament).

Here are the breakdowns for UNM (and their opponents) at the free-throw line in the Pit, in road games and in neutral court games:

♦ The Pit (16 games): UNM 310-437 (70.9 percent); opponents 151-223 (67.7 percent);

♦ Road (13 games): UNM 178-250 (71.2 percent); 132-200 (66.0 percent);

♦ Neutral (5 games): UNM 93-118 (78.8 percent); 38-57 (66.7 percent).

UNM IS NO KENTUCKY: A Boston-based reporter asked UNM’s Kendall Williams whether the team had watched defending national champion Kentucky lose in Tuesday night’s opening round of the NIT to unheralded Robert Morris – several Lobos players had watched the game – and whether that served as any sort of cause for concern for the heavily favored Lobos against Harvard.

“With all due respect, we don’t compare ourselves to Kentucky much at all,” Williams said.
Lobos look to bigs for a win

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal