NCAA Tournament: Lobos eager to put New Mexico on the map (with video)
The Spanish founded Albuquerque in the early 1700s, but Steve Alford put New Mexico on the map.
Just ask Tony Snell.
"For me, I didn't know where New Mexico was until I seen 'em on TV," the Lobo junior told reporters Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena, as his team prepares for its second-round NCAA Tournament matchup with Harvard.
In Alford's six seasons at New Mexico, the former Hoosier has put together an impressive 155-51 record. His Lobos went 29-5 this year, won the Mountain West Conference Tournament by beating UNLV in Las Vegas, and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tourney.
Pundits have picked the Lobos to go as far as the Final Four. Earlier this week, Cosmopolitan magazine named sophomore guard Hugh Greenwood one of the best-looking players in the tournament.
It's fair to say people are talking about New Mexico.
"When you look at it three, four years ago when we were in the NCAA Tournament, I don't think anybody even knew about us and we were [29-4] that year," Alford said. "Now there is more attention and there is more momentum there. That's good for us nationally, something that we have been thriving and striving to do in the last six years, and we're seeing headway now."
Nevertheless, the Lobos feel as though they're being overlooked.
Center Alex Kirk said he doesn't think the Mountain West "gets a lot of recognition back East." Alford made his case for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed before the brackets were announced, but New Mexico was revealed as a No. 3.
"I don't think we necessarily feel slighted," said leading scorer Kendall Williams, "but whether or not there is a bias in the country or not, we feel like we're an underdog in any situation."
But when New Mexico takes the floor on Thursday against Harvard, the Lobos shouldn't look that part. Snell, the junior guard, is listed at 6-foot-7. Harvard, meanwhile, doesn't start a player taller than that.
Kirk, a 7-footer, and forward Cameron Bairstow will have a chance to do some damage in the post against the Crimson. It's a position Kirk said he's become comfortable with playing in the Mountain West.
"Most teams kind of do play this almost four-guard lineup," Kirk said. "With me and Cam down low, it has been an emphasis to kind of force the ball inside all season long. We've had a great advantage of getting the ball inside and then getting it back out to these guys [the perimeter players]. It's kind of a normal game for us."
If the Lobos are to prove those pundits right and make a run to the Final Four, they will have to do something the school has never before accomplished: reach the Sweet 16.
Regardless of the tournament's outcome, Alford said he's pleased with the basketball powerhouse he's building in the southwestern desert.
"To win 29 games to date, be a hot team coming into the tournament and knowing all five starters return next year, hopefully we can take this momentum into the following season as well," he said.
First, however, the Lobos are looking to make sure a few more people know where Albuquerque is.
"We're pleased with what we've done, but we've pretty much been playing the whole year for this tournament," Williams said. "We feel like we're just getting started."
No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 14 Harvard
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff •Â Thursday, 7:50 p.m. TV • TNT
Records • New Mexico 29-5; Harvard 19-9
About the Lobos •Â The team won 14 straight games to start the season. ... New Mexico has just two seniors on its roster, and neither is a starter. ... Junior guard Kendall Williams leads the team in scoring with 13.5 ppg.
About the Crimson •Â Harvard makes its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance after more than a six decades without one. ... Harvard starts no player taller than 6-foot-7. ... Wesley Saunders leads the team in scoring with 16.5 ppg.
O Harvard's Corbin Miller, a former Brighton High School star, is on an LDS Church mission. But his family and friends will be at the ESA on Thursday to show their support for the Crimson. Read the story at sltrib.com/sports