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ALBUQUERQUE — Even compared to the typically busy life of a college student, Alex Kirk stays hopping.
Kirk, the former Los Alamos High School boys basketball standout, made a big impression on the coaching staff of the University of New Mexico and found himself in the starting five for the Lobos to start the season as a true freshman.
But, just as the 6-foot-11 big man was getting wrapped up with UNM’s fall semester final exams — which apparently went very well, as he finished with semester with three A’s and two B’s — he also became the subject of some speculation.
Heading into the winter break at UNM, which gives Kirk and the rest of the Lobos some respite from studies, also means the introduction to the team of Drew Gordon.
Gordon, a transfer from UCLA, officially joined the team Saturday. He is eligible for Sunday’s Lobo game against The Citadel following his mandatory one-year waiting period, demanded by the NCAA of all transferring athletes.
Lobo head coach Steve Alford said last week that Gordon won’t start right away, but Gordon, who averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game with the Bruins, will almost certainly make his way into the starting five at some point, a move which could well mean that Kirk will be squeezed out.
“It’s not anything I can control,” Kirk said following UNM’s blowout victory over Longwood University of Farmville, Va., Friday night in The Pit. “He’s one of the top 100 players at UCLA, and now he’s with us. That’s huge. His athletic ability, what he can do on the floor is good.”
Alford, not one to bend his routine much, will likely keep his player rotation in place until he’s sure the team has adjusted to the addition of Gordon.
At UCLA, Gordon got the reputation for being outspoken and emotional. Alford, however, said UNM is looking forward to having him standing by.
“He’s exciting,” Alford said. “The team’s excited. It’s not an easy situation to be out a full year, but it’ll be exciting.”
For his part, Kirk said it’s up to him how much floor time he’ll see as the season wears on.
“I could get more minutes if I stop (committing) fouls that don’t need to happen,” he said. “If I can start getting better defensive position early, that wouldn’t happen. I’ve got to get ready, get my body in the right position, move my feet a little better and get the other player out of position.”
Kirk has picked up quick fouls in some of his recent games — he got in foul trouble in the Lobos’ Dec. 11 game against New Mexico State and fouled out against Southern Illinois Dec. 1 — necessitating he head to the bench earlier than planned.
In Friday’s 91-54 win over Longwood’s Lancers, Kirk played 14 minutes. In that time he went 2-for-6 from the field for six points. He also grabbed six rebounds, including a pair of offensive rebounds, tied for second on the team with Cameron Bairstow and behind Emmanuel Negedu’s team-leading eight boards.
Kirk has led the Lobos (8-1) in rebounds three times this season, including in the first game of his career, in which he posted a double-double.
Kirk started out the second half of Friday’s game with a pair of buckets, one on a drive into the basket and the other on a nifty jump hook from about five feet out.
His hot hand early in the second half, when the Lobos started to take control of the contest, didn’t last, missing three straight shots before being replaced by Bairstow with 15:50 remaining in the half.
UNM made it a point to feed him the ball during the opening minutes of the second half, but after his initial hits, Kirk said he started getting a little nervous and his shots started going awry.
The Lobos got off to a slow start in the first half. The Lancers had the hot hand from the outside early — Longwood is one of the top 3-point shooting Division-II teams in the country — and went up by as many as seven points with 11:47 remaining, with the Lobos scrambling to catch up to the movement around the perimeter.
Longwood (3-9) started to cool off in the latter part of the opening half, however. On the other end of the court, the height-deprived Longwood couldn’t match up with UNM’s height down low.
The Lobos were well in control of the contest throughout the second half — the most interesting thing about the half being an evacuation of The Pit with 8:24 remaining in the half due to a fire alarm set off in the building. Play resumed after an approximate 20-minute delay.
“The thing we learned (Friday) is that someone should’ve pulled the fire alarm earlier,” Alford quipped following the game. “We were pretty good after that.”
The unexpected break might have been the best thing that happened to the Lobos, who outscored the Lancers 25-6 for the balance of the contest.
The evacuation alert at The Pit turned out to be nothing more than a smoke detector set off in one of the arena’s kitchens.
With approximately one-third of the season under his belt, Kirk said his game has elevated considerably from where it was less than a year ago.
“I think it’s been a huge leap,” Kirk said. “Just keep building up, working with my teammates and getting better and better every night.”