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They said they wanted a competitive game, not just some half-hearted exhibition.
It’s Lobos and Aggies.
Was there really a question?
Saturday’s Battle of the Rio Grande Lobo-Aggie alumni all-star game before an announced crowd of 6,000 in the Pit had all the familiar names and intensity of the heated instate rivalry, even if it lacked at times much, shall we say, quality basketball.
“Yeah (you could feel the intensity),” said Wendall McKines, the power forward who starred for the Aggies from 2007-10. “The fans started booing us. It is a legit rivalry. So let’s go out there and fight. You ready for battle? I was. We lost. We live to do it again.”
UNM had six players score in double figures, led by MVP J.R. Giddens’ 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and a pair of steals to beat their down-south rivals, 102-97.
“I did (think it might actually get into a fight) after Justin Hawkins shoved me a little bit,” said Giddens, who starred for the Lobos before being drafted into the NBA in 2008. “I thought it was going to get a little nasty, but I guess we kept it clean. We kept it PG for the fans. … They were trying to win and we were trying to win, as well. And we came out on top. We got the trophy.”
Event coordinator Cameron Bairstow said the game itself was everything he had hoped, even if he, too, was nervous at times that the intensity might cross the line. It never did.
“Based on the rivalry, we knew it was going to be that type of game toward the end of the game,” said Bairstow, the Detroit Pistons player who played at UNM until 2014. “I was surprised how early (it got there). Obviously the Aggies came out with that edge and from then, the Lobos saw what kind of game it was going to be and they adjusted accordingly.”
The much-deeper Lobos bench of past stars outscored NMSU’s reserves 48-8.
But if the Lobos brought the star power, the Aggies, who had several key players back out in recent weeks due mostly to other basketball obligations, certainly brought the fight.
What looked early to be a UNM blowout on their home court with the Lobos taking a 16-point lead midway through the first half – 30-14 with under 9:07 showing on the clock – turned into everything the crowd could have hoped for in the second half.
The Aggies shoved, clawed and scrapped their way back to take second-half leads on three occasions, only to have the Lobos respond with run after run.
Jonathan Gibson led all scorers with 32 points and nine assists, while McKines added 26 points and 18 rebounds.
NMSU had 20 turnovers to 19 for the Lobos. The two teams combined to miss 55 3-pointers (NMSU was 11-of-40, UNM 13-of-39) and 29 free throws (NMSU 20-of-35 for 55.6 percent, UNM 15-of-29 for 51.7 percent).
AGAIN? Bairstow is open to running a similar event next year, though with ticket sales down and expenses up, especially with the costs to accommodate travel for so many players, it might be tough. He said he hopes to break even this year after expenses and last year actually took a loss on the event.
“We love doing this, myself and Brandon (Mason, the event’s other coordinator who played at NMSU, coached at both UNM and NMSU and now coaches at UNLV),” Bairstow said. “That’s why we do it. We really love putting these events on. You see the joy in the guys; they love doing this. I would personally love to do an event again next year, but really it will have to do with the fans for what type of event that is.”
McKines and Giddens both said they want to do it again, though McKines’ vote is for the Pan Am Center in Las Cruces.
HIGH RISING HIGHLANDS: Officially, Deshawn Delaney’s 50 points in the final round won the event’s dunk contest (a repeat winner of sorts as he also was crowned champion in last year’s Lobos-only dunk contest). While there was no questioning his dunks were tremendous, they did come after the allotted 30-second time limit.
New Mexico Highlands player Ron Lawton, from Chicago, participated and arguably won, but didn’t protest Delaney’s victory.