3/15/2012 7:38:18 AM
Long Beach State, which claims to have played the toughest non-conference
schedule of any team in college basketball thanks to eight games against teams
that are in the tournament field, is the 12th seed in the West Region and is
participating in the event for the first time since 2007 when it was blown out
of the water by Tennessee (121-86).
Despite losing the final game of the regular season to Cal State Fullerton,
the 49ers easily took care of business in the Big West Conference Tournament,
registering double-digit wins over the likes of UC Davis, UC Irvine and UC
Santa Barbara in order to earn the automatic bid to the tourney.
As for the fifth-seeded Lobos, they seemed to be hiding in the shadows cast by
San Diego State and UNLV in the Mountain West Conference, but when it counted
the most UNM came up huge. Following back-to-back road losses to Colorado
State and TCU, the Lobos rattled off a couple wins to close out the regular
season, and then delivered three straight victories over the Air Force
Falcons, Runnin' Rebels and Aztecs in order to capture the MWC Tournament
title for the first time since 2005.
In terms of experience in the NCAA Tournament, the Lobos first showed up in
1968 with a win over Santa Clara in Albuquerque, but since that triumph the
program has won just six of 19 opportunities. Two years ago, seeded third in
the East Regional, UNM topped Montana (57-62) but then bowed to 11th-seeded
Washington (82-64) in a stunner.
The all-time series between these two teams favors the Lobos by a count of
3-2, with UNM winning two in a row thanks to a 92-88 overtime triumph in
the most recent matchup back in 1986.
The winner of this meeting will take on the survivor of the
Davidson/Louisville matchup in the next round on Saturday.
For the second straight season, Casper Ware was named the Big West Conference
Player of the Year, this time around leading the 49ers to the Big Dance after
pushing them through the conference tournament. The Big West Tournament MVP as
well, Ware averaged 22.0 ppg in those three bouts, topping out at 33 against
UCSB in the title game when he tied a school record with eight three-pointers.
Through 33 games, Ware has knocked down a total of 92 triples, the rest of the
team combining for just 125 more conversions from long distance. Ware leads
the team in scoring with 17.4 ppg and is also first in assists with 108, while
Larry Anderson is listed as the second-leading scorer with 14.0 ppg, although
the latter's status is still a bit shaky as he continues to nurse a sprained
right knee. If Anderson can't go, that will put a little more pressure on T.J.
Robinson (12.0 ppg) who is already the top rebounder for the group with 10.1
boards per game.
Clamping down on defense has been the objective of every Lobos team in every
game since Steve Alford took over as head coach. This year the squad was able
to limit the competition to a mere 59.1 ppg, those teams shooting just 38.0
percent from the field and 30.7 percent behind the three-point line. Under the
direction of coach Alford, the Lobos are an astounding 58-0 when holding
opponents below 60 points, so as long as the team can continue that trend good
things are bound to happen. Drew Gordon, who lost out on the MWC Player of the
Year Award, did grab a trophy as the MWC Tournament MVP and has also been
recognized as an All-MWC First Team member as well. Gordon was a double-double
machine for the Lobos with 13.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, both of
which led the team this season. Kendall Williams (12.0 ppg) accounted for a
team-best 132 assists and Tony Snell (11.0 ppg) was a guiding force from
three-point range (71-of-178).