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November 11, 2012

UNM opens season with late/early game

The basketball season starts tonight for the New Mexico Lobos, or does it actually begin Tuesday morning?

Officially, UNM and Davidson tip off at 11:59 Monday night. So if the start is just a few minutes late, it'll actually be Tuesday morning. When ESPN was putting together its marathon 24 hours of basketball, it offered New Mexico two options if it wanted to be part. The Lobos had the choice of midnight or 8 a.m. Coach Steve Alford was quick to grab the late-night slot.

While this will be a late start for the Lobos, it will be a 2 a.m. start for the Wildcats, and at an elevation of almost a mile and in front of a normally large crowd that has been known to be noisy.

The Lobos feel ready to start the season, but Alford is not ready to announce his starting lineup. Guards Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood are definite. Guard Demetrius Walker is about a 90 percent probable.

And then there is the low post where the only big man will play. Junior Cameron Bairstow is expected to be on the floor for the tipoff. Sophomore Alex Kirk hasn't played since the 2010-11 season, so the 7-footer from Los Alamos should be coming off the bench. It really doesn't matter because the two will pretty evenly share time unless one is playing particularly well or has foul trouble.

``Hopefully our two exhibition games prepared us,'' said Alford. ``We've got to be who we are. We've played four guards a lot. It's nothing new for us. We've gone against two bigs. Colorado State played three bigs against us at times. We like that lineup but it has its challenges.''

While Davidson might not be a household name to a casual fan, the Wildcats have a strong tradition in college basketball. The North Carolina school finished 25-8 last season and won the Southern Conference. Davidson lost to Louisville in the NCAA tournament last year and the Cardinals eliminated New Mexico in the third round.

To start last season, the Lobos were without a proven point guard. Greenwood earned the job as a freshman, but it took a while for him to learn the system. ``Hugh's not a freshman. Freshmen take some time. Now, we're really healthy. We've got some guys who can really score,'' Alford noted.

``We'll be prepared,'' said Williams, a pre-season all-conference pick. ``Coach expects a lot out of me and the starters. It is up to us to bring the younger players along.''

The Lobos expect to be strong in most areas like shooting, running fastbreaks, on defense and handling the ball. The area that is suspect will be rebounding.

``Every year, we go in knowing how important rebounding is. There is nothing more important than how we play on defense and how we rebound,'' pointed out Alford.

The Lobos would have played at any time to get exposure on ESPN. The Mountain West had its own network for three seasons and rarely got national exposure. ``We haven't had ESPN in our building for a long time for a regular-season game.''

But Davidson might turn that exposure into a negative by beating the Lobos in the Pit. ``They return their whole team, a lot like we'll look next year,'' Alford said. ``They've got a lot of experience. They don't have a lot of weaknesses.''


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