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January 24, 2013And now there are the New Mexico Lobos and a bunch of also-rans in the Mountain West Conference.
The 15th-ranked Lobos are the kings of the MWC - for the moment at least. UNM beat Colorado State 66-61 on Wednesday for a 4-0 conference record. Every other team in the league has at least two losses. That includes UNLV and San Diego State, the two teams that were predicted to finish ahead of UNM in the league standings.
New Mexico has a team that comes at you from a large variety of directions. Against the Rams, 7-foot sophomore Alex Kirk was running on about half speed because of the flu and CSU is the best rebounding team in the nation. That's a bad day to lose your best big man.
So the Lobos played their usual tight defense, outscored CSU by eight at the foul line, shot 43.8 percent from 3-point range and used hustle to overcome size.
New Mexico has become a team that has been able to find a way to win several times when it could have lost this season. Going 17-2 is a real accomplishment, and UNM coach Steve Alford keeps using the same word to explain his team's success - fight.
``Our guys fight. If we don't get a rebound, we're going to fight. We just didn't allow them to finish. We continue to fight until the process is done,'' Alford says.
The Lobos had a 20-point lead but had to hold on to win by five. But that didn't bother Alford at all. He has the simple philosophy that as far as winning is concerned, it doesn't matter how, just how many. And being unbeaten in the MWC is all he is looking at.
``We are a very gritty group. We're pretty good. We're a pretty good basketball and we're getting better,'' Alford said, wearing a broad smile.
Against CSU, it was Tony Snell and Chad Adams who had the big numbers. Snell finished with 23 points, hitting 3 of 5 from 3-point range, while Adams had six rebounds and had 13 points by hitting 6 of 6 at the foul line.
In spite of the impressive record and aloof position in the conference standings, the Lobos are a hard team to explain. They have made 413 field goals, but their opponents have made 416. They don't lead the MWC in any team statistical category. But somehow they are 17-2.
``We are probably the only team in the top 25 that has less field goal than their opponents. That's unique,''
Alford points out.
UNM does have a big advantage at the foul line. The Lobos have outscored their opponents by 169 points on free throws.
New Mexico has been home for three of its first four MWC games. That evens out now. The Lobos play at San Diego State on Saturday and then travel to the frozen tundra that is Laramie, Wyo. UNM has back-to-back road games against two of the best teams in the league.
``We'll have our hands full,'' admits Alford, ``but we're 4-0 when we go there.''
New Mexico NEWS