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Young Lobos Gain Much Needed Experience

By Mark Smith
Journal Staff Writer
          It served its purpose.
        The University of New Mexico's 88-59 romp of Western New Mexico wasn't a thing of beauty. It wasn't supposed to be.
        But the game provided the Lobos with just what they needed at this point of the season — a chance to get some seasoning.
        With its opening game slated for Friday at the Pit against Southeast Missouri State, UNM's young bunch needed to get a feel for Bob King Court.
        And it felt good.
        "It did feel good — it felt great," said freshman point guard Nate Garth, who had a team-high five assists, including three straight midway through the first half — two to frosh Will Brown for slams.
        "The coaches said that the only thing they asked me to do was get everybody open shots, so that was my main thing. Playing with Will in high school, I know where he's going to be and when he's going to be there."
        The freshmen provided some good energy while getting some experience, but it was the veterans who excelled. Roman Martinez showed the youngsters a little something about patience and how to play all aspects of the game. He had a game-high 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting and tied a game-high with eight boards.
        "Man Ro, he just goes hard all the time," said freshmen A.J. Hardeman, who also had eight rebounds. He's such a smart basketball player, too. He knows where to be at the right time and is a great model for us."
        Added Garth: "Not only does (Martinez) do so much on the court, he directs us and tells us things to do. He always gives us advice to help us to be successful."
        Another guy coach Steve Alford is counting on to be really successful this season is senior Tony Danridge, who is back after missing last year with a broken leg. Alford said Danridge struggled during the Lobos' scrimmage against Arizona State the week before, but he showed signs of coming around against Western.
        Danridge scored off a variety of plays in the half-court offense on his way to a 6-of-12 outing for 14 points, but just three rebounds in 21 minutes.
        "I thought he did some really good things," Alford said of Danridge. "We need him to rebound, we need him to guard ... but we have to have someone do the things he did (on offense). He scores in the low post, he scores off the bounce, he spots up well. I thought Tony really responded well to, maybe, a couple tough days in practice."
        Seniors Daniel Faris (11 points, three rebounds) and Chad Toppert (13 points, six rebounds) also had nice outings, but against a team that started four players no bigger than 6-foot-2 and one guy at 6-5.
        The small lineup gave Alford a chance to tinker with a smaller, quicker lineup of his own — as well as giving his six scholarship freshmen plenty of minutes.
        "I wanted to play them as much as possible," Alford said of the young guns, who were led by guard Phillip McDonald with 11 points. "Obviously that can shrink down depending on what happens here in the next four or five days, and what happens in practice. It's not easy to play 11 guys — that's a difficult thing to do.
        "... I think we're just really versatile. We can play teams that are undersized and we can play four guards. It's hard to say how many minutes people are going to get. It might be a year where that fluctuates a lot, just depending on who's producing and who's doing what.
        "I think what helps us get better is if practices (continue to be) as competitive as they've been the last couple of weeks."
        Up next