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Lobos open NCAA tourney on Friday

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Men’s basketball > UNM was victim of a second round upset last March

By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — The past is the past, according to the University of New Mexico Lobos men's basketball team.
And the Lobos are hoping their recent history at the NCAA tournament stays in the past.
The Lobos will take on Stanford Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
UNM got the No. 7 seed for this year's tournament and will play the 10th-seeded Stanford Cardinal in the South Regional. The winner of Friday's game will meet, very likely, the second seed in the regional, the Kansas Jayhawks.
For all UNM's success over the years, the Lobos haven't had much success in their history at the tournament. UNM has never escaped the second round since the tournament went to the current 64-team main bracket.
While that's in the backs of many of the Lobos' minds, the team is trying to downplay both that fact and last year's upset loss.
"It's no secret this program wants to reach the Sweet 16," UNM guard Kendall Williams said during a press conference Monday at the Rudy Davalos Center. "But at the end of the day, we got back here. We're looking at where we're at...it's one of those things to talk about unfinished business throughout the year, but the more you get into it, you realize you've got Stanford. That's what we've got to make it to the next game."
Last March, the Lobos were the No. 3 seed in the tournament, but were stunned by the Harvard Crimson. Harvard confounded UNM in the first half and hit 9 3-pointers to pull off one of the biggest upsets of March Madness.
Possibly because of that upset loss and possibly because it didn't finish on top of the Mountain West regular season standings, as was expected going into the season, the Lobos only managed to earn a No. 7 seed despite a 27-6 record and a MW tournament title, upending the San Diego State Aztecs for the second time in three attempts.
Friday, Stanford (21-12) could present some issues for the Lobos. Stanford, although not particularly tall, is a very athletic team which features some very strong scorers, notably leading scorer Chasson Randle (18.4 points per game) and forward Dwight Powell (14.2 points per game).
“They got a lot of athletes,” Lobo center and former Los Alamos star Alex Kirk said. “They’re kind of an older team, too. I know a number of these guys from my past, especially in high school. I played against Dwight Powell this summer from Team Canada. Josh Huestis and Chasson Randle both tried out for Team USA this summer. I played against Anthony Brown in high school.”
There are several connections between the Lobos and the Cardinal, including between the coaches.
Lobo coach Craig Neal, who played college ball at Georgia Tech, faced off on the court against Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, who is from Duke, in the mid-1980s. Neal said Dawkins was a smart, athletic guard and “was the best guard I played against except for Michael Jordan.”
The Cardinal like to feature multi-guard sets on offense. While the Lobos’ strength is down low, it’s nothing they haven’t seen before, particularly during conference play against teams such as Fresno State and Boise State, which actually beat UNM during the regular season in Idaho.
Most of the current Lobo players are NCAA veterans and there wasn’t going to be a lot of changes to the routine in preparation for the Cardinal.
“You just approach it like any other game,” said Cameron Bairstow, Kirk’s partner underneath the basket and last week’s MW tournament MVP. “You do your scouting, you go through their offense and their defense to understand what they’re trying to accomplish, and you try to take away those things.”
Florida, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, is also in the South region, so it will be a tough climb for the Lobos, or anyone with aspirations of making the Final Four.
The winner between UNM and Stanford will play Sunday in St. Louis. The championship game of the NCAA tournament is set for April 2.
 

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