Monday, January 7, 2008
Lobos No Longer Fear Taking Their Show on the Road
By Mark Smith
Journal Staff Writer
LARAMIE, Wyo.— Dude, what a trip. Forgive the University of New Mexico men's basketball team if it's flying on cloud nine right now. But be assured, it's a natural high.
The Lobos did something pretty much unheard of in the history of this program, winning their third road game in as many tries— all in successive games. They are 4-2 outside the Pit this season, and look to be on the way to at least a few more victories away from home.
When New Mexico held off a mediocre Colorado team in its season opener in Boulder, there was reason for optimism. After all, the program won just eight road games in its previous five seasons. But two straight road losses at Ole Miss and New Mexico State and a hard-fought victory at hapless Hawaii didn't exactly establish the Lobos as road warriors.
That may have changed. A gutsy overtime victory at UTEP followed by a double-overtime win at Wyoming— where UNM hadn't won since 1995 and where it trailed by 16 at the half on Saturday— skyrocketed the Lobos to 14-2 and on a seven-game winning streak.
Even more impressive was how the Lobos won in different manners in the past three road games. And how different players led each victory.
"This was a trip, where our guys really showed good resiliency and toughness," said first-year UNM coach Steve Alford. "We win in overtime at UTEP and in double overtime (in Laramie). ... We found a way to win, and that's what's neat about this group.
"... It's been that way all year for us; it's been somebody different every night."
Junior post Daniel Faris had a career-high 21 points, scoring at will inside in the Lobos' win at Hawaii.
Senior J.R. Giddens struggled to a 6-of-18 outing from the floor, but had 20 points and 19 rebounds in a brutally physical game at UTEP.
Senior point guard Jamaal Smith, who was nearly the goat for his late miscues against the Miners, came off the bench for a career-high 24 points and iced the Wyoming game with seven free throws in the second overtime of the Mountain West Conference opener.
"Anybody on this team is capable of taking over a game at any moment and time," Smith said. "Different guys are going to get called upon on different nights."
The 5-foot-9 guard added that the team no longer fears the road.
"No, not at all," he said. "It's a big thing, still, to get a road win. The guys from last year on the team understand, and we helped the new guys understand, that a win on the road is huge."
With four such victories already, it's no wonder the Lobos are trippin' out— and not trippin' up.
Now the big question is, will they make a big trip come mid-March?
COMEBACK KIDS: The Lobos trailed 48-32 at halftime at Wyoming before winning 99-92 in double overtime. That was the biggest second half comeback on the road in school history and tied for fifth biggest comeback ever for UNM.
The biggest comeback in school history came at Hawaii in 1993. UNM trailed 31-11 in the first half before winning 61-58. The biggest second-half comeback of any type came in 1998, when the Lobos trailed 58-40 one minute into the second half at home against Texas-Pan American. UNM won 101-94.
HOME, PRETTY SWEET, HOME: El Paso native Roman Martinez had one of his worst games of the season, scoring just one point for the Lobos on Wednesday at UTEP. But to be a part of the victory in his hometown was "real, real special. I didn't feel any extra pressure," said Martinez, who was booed heavily during introductions. "I didn't have a good game, but this is a team, and that's how we played. Winning in an arena where I watched a lot of games as a kid was really sweet."
EVEN STEVEN: During his post-game interview on KKOB Radio in El Paso, Alford got a little surprise from long-time play-by-play man Mike Roberts. Roberts handed Alford a copy of a box score from Dec. 10, 1983.
The game? Indiana at UTEP. Alford, then a freshman for the Hoosiers, scored four points in the Miners' 65-61 win.
"Yeah, I remember that," Alford said with a laugh. "Thanks a lot for bringing that up, Mike. It wasn't a good memory, I remember the long flight home from El Paso.
"But this makes me 1-1 in this building."
Paul Cunningham, father of former Cibola High star and current Southern Cal player Kasey Cunningham, scored one point in that game for UTEP.
20/20 VISION: Giddens' 20 points and 19 rebounds at UTEP left him just shy of the first 20-20 game by a Lobo since Jimmy Allen in 1976.
NOTES: UNM senior Tony Danridge, who has been out with a broken leg since October, says he has not yet been cleared to practice and will probably not return to the team this season.
... A cold and flu bug took its toll on the Lobos the past couple of weeks, and has worked its way around the team at least twice. Alford was hit the hardest in Laramie. He said, "We're tired, I'm tired, we've got some guys sick. It comes at a good time to have a week to get ready for San Diego State."
... The Lobos will practice today at Laguna-Acoma High at 1 p.m. It is open to the public.
Saturday: San Diego State at New Mexico, 7 p.m.TV: The Mtn. Radio: KKOB-AM (770)
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