In a total turnaround, the New Mexico Lobos followed an embarrassing home loss with an impressive road win.
A win over unbeaten and 8th-ranked Cincinnati should put UNM back into the rankings, probably into the top 20. A loss to unheralded South Dakota State in the Pit last Saturday dropped New Mexico from No. 16 to No. nowhere.
This is a Lobo team that again defies description. After it beat Davidson, George Mason, Connecticut, Indiana State and now Cincinnati, the loser left the court wondering how it lost and wishing it had a chance to redeem themselves against UNM.
This time, it was very good defense and the size of 7-foot Alex Kirk that made the difference in New Mexico's 55-54 victory. The Lobos didn't shoot well, didn't get many foul shots and were outrebounded. But the Bearcats shot worse and got even fewer free throws.
``We come on the road and shoot 38 percent and win,'' said UNM coach Steve Alford. ``It's been our defense. It's been our fight. What this team has done is win in the last 5 minutes. This is what we've done all year.''
The Lobos have done whatever it takes to win to roll to a 13-1 record. Kirk had 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. One of his blocks came at the buzzer as Cincinnati's Sean Patrick was putting up a shot that would have won the game for the Bearcats.
Kirk missed last season with a back problem. The sophomore from Los Alamos has made giant strides since his freshman year when he played like a gangly freshman. He now truly is a force in the middle, and that is a force UNM needs.
``I continue to just keep trying to improve,'' Kirk noted. ``I'm just trying to get into it.''
Both coach and players kept using the word fight after this win. ``We came out and tried to show the fight we have,'' Kirk pointed out.
``We're coming off a tough home loss where I think we lost our fight,'' Alford said. ``I was concerned. Would we get that fight back? Our guys fought hard.''
Kendall Williams had 16 points to lead the Lobos. He scored 14 of those in the second half when UNM was winning the game. Tony Snell had 10 points, including a 3-pointer that provided the winning points.
Now the Lobos play at St. Louis on New Year's Eve. St. Louis isn't quite as good as it was last year when Rick Majerus was head coach. He recently passed away. But another road win against a good team would be a boost to the Lobos again.
After that, New Mexico opens its Mountain West Conference season with a home game against nationally-ranked UNLV.