With the 76-66 win the Lobos take over first place in the Mountain West and gain a valuable season split with UNLV. The differences on Wednesday night: rebounding and three-point shooting. The Lobos were a plus-9 on the boards (35-26) in the first meeting but Steve Alford's club was flat-out dominant in the rematch, outrebounding UNLV 45-23 and grabbing seventeen offensive boards (take away UNM's defensive boards and they would have been just a minus-6). The rebounding edge led to a 19-2 advantage in second chance points, a huge disparity given the teams combining for six fast break points. The Lobos also made eleven of twenty-one shots from behind the arc while also doing a far better job of defending the three-point line.
UNLV made just ten of thirty three-pointers, including 3-for-14 in the first half. In the first meeting the Rebels hit eleven of twenty-six and Kendall Wallace accounted for six of those makes (seven attempts). Wednesday night Wallace made three of six and Tre'Von Willis hit just one (five attempts). Oscar Bellfield led the Rebels with 15 points but they were unable to wrestle away control of the game. Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez scored sixteen points apiece while Dairese Gary (15) and Phillip McDonald (13) also reached double figures.
"I thought we did a good job executing offensively," said Coach Alford after the game. "You come into Vegas and come into this building and we never trailed. We led start to finish, so this is a very, very impressive night. They played outstanding basketball (quote courtesy of golobos.com)."
Three Key Happenings
1. Connecticut and North Carolina leave opportunities on the table, but the Huskies are better equipped to still make a run. Both UConn and UNC went into their games on Wednesday needing wins to turn things back in the proper direction; both are at the point where moral victories earn you nothing more than a pat on the back and a directive to get the next one. But after dropping said games the Huskies look to be better equipped to fight their way into the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies fell 72-67 at Syracuse, fighting back from a 16-point second half deficit to have a shot to win in the final minute. Of course the timeout granted the Orange with just over 35 seconds remaining will receive much of the attention but that whistle didn't tell Jerome Dyson to attempt a contested 25-footer with the Huskies down just two.
Should John Cahill granted the timeout? It was clearly called by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim while Scoop Jardine was still in possession of the basketball. But it wasn't granted until Stanley Robinson had possession, which is where the controversy lies. As for the result itself the Huskies used the usual formula of their big three (Dyson, Robinson and Kemba Walker) doing the scoring with Gavin Edwards providing the appearance of a bench presence. In order for UConn to pull off a run for an NCAA Tournament berth they need a Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (or anyone else for that matter) to provide some scoring.
As for the Tar Heels the lack of a player who can be a consistent primary scoring option late combined with some shockingly poor rebounding in the final ten minutes to result in Duke's 64-54 victory. One of the taller teams in college basketball you wouldn't expect rebounding to be an issue especially with Duke losing Lance Thomas to a knee injury but the Blue Devils grabbed 19 offensive boards and Jon Scheyer made key shots late. Not trying to make a direct correlation since Carolina is a far more talented team but the issue of lacking a bona fide primary scorer is very similar to what St. John's is going through. And in late-game situations that deficiency will get you beat more times than not.
2. Dayton announces its return to the A-10 race, and Richmond also makes a statement. Dayton's home game against Charlotte was a big one for both with the Flyers needing a win to remain in the Atlantic 10 race while Bobby Lutz' 49ers would have moved one step closer to an NCAA bid with a positive result. Chris Wright made sure there was no doubt who the better team was, scoring 30 points while grabbing nine rebounds in the 75-47 beating. But even with his performance the real star at UD Arena was the Flyers' defense, holding Charlotte to 25% shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers to just six 49er assists. The win moved Dayton to within a game in the loss column of first place and given how they've played in decisive wins over Xavier and Charlotte Brian Gregory's team could come through on the preseason expectations of winning the league.
As for who's now in first place, Richmond picked up one of Wednesday's more impressive results in their 69-67 win at Rhode Island as a result they're tied with Xavier atop the A-10. A Keith Cothran three-pointer missed with one second remaining to preserve the win, one the Spiders earned by shooting 58.3% from the field (73.7% in the second half). David Gonzalvez (19 points) and Kevin Anderson (18) led the way for Chris Mooney's team while Dan Geriot added 12 points off the bench. Richmond, who limits opponents to 29.1% from behind the arc, held the Rams to 3-for-15 and that stat likely made the difference. The win should erase any doubt in regards to Richmond's tournament hopes. Barring a collapse they'll be in the field.
3. Sometimes getting to the tournament is more about not showing that you don't belong. That statement refers to Northwestern, who have at the least put themselves right behind the proverbial 8-ball with their disappointing effort at Iowa, falling 78-65 to the Big Ten's 10th place team. The Hawkeyes hit twelve three pointers for the game as the Wildcats had numerous defensive lapses, even allowing three-point specialist Devan Bawinkel hit five shots from distance. Why's Bawinkel's performance so alarming? Because he's yet to attempt or make a two-point shot. Although he's a very good shooter from deep you would think that was mentioned in the scout leading up to the game.
"We just got smacked. They just started making shots right from the beginning and their good shooters were getting the ball," remarked head coach Bill Carmody. "It was like we disregarded the scouting report on [Devan] Bawinkel. We picked other guys to guard tight leaving him open and he's a terrific shooter (quote courtesy of hawkeyesports.com)." Three other Hawkeyes scored in double figures with Matt Gatens scoring a team-high 16 while Michael Thompson led the Wildcats with a game-high 20. But this a crucial loss for Northwestern, who could learn the hard way that a team can also distinguish itself to the selection committee by losing games it should win.
Top Three Games
1. Richmond 69, Rhode Island 67 See above.
2. Miami 64, Georgia Tech 62 The Yellow Jackets dropped a game that on paper they should have won, having to come back from a double-digit halftime deficit only to have James Dews knock down a jumper as time expired. Brian Oliver led all scorers with 19 while Dwayne Collins led the Hurricanes with 13.
3. Nevada 67, Idaho 66 An Armon Johnson three-point play with just under three seconds to go proved to be the difference in Moscow. Johnson led all scorers with 23 points and Luke Babbitt added 21 and seven rebounds while Mac Hopson led the Vandals with 17.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Chris Wright (Dayton) 30 points and nine rebounds in the Flyers' 75-47 pasting of Charlotte.
2. G Josh Davis (Samford) 30 points (7-13 3PT) and seven rebounds in the Bulldogs' 78-54 road win over Chattanooga.
3. F Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State) 26 points (10-14 FG) and eight rebounds in the Aztecs' 88-57 win over Wyoming.
Honorable Mention: TCU 105, Utah 96 (womens) This four overtime game is why the nation missed the first half of the New Mexico/Utah game and to be honest the extra sessions were entertaining to watch. Utah's Kalee Whipple scored a Mountain West-record 45 points, which included an improbable three pointer to send the game into a fourth overtime.