WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Geoff Grammer, who covers New Mexico men’s basketball for the Albuquerque Journal.
Wyoming (18-10 overall, 4-10 Mountain West) plays at No. 14 and first-place New Mexico (24-4, 11-2) at 3 p.m. today at the Pit.
Question: The Lobos seem to be the most complete team in the Mountain West this season. Can you elaborate on that and, in your opinion, what has made them so good this season?
Answer: Alex Kirk, UNM’s sophomore center, said something after the San Diego State win on Wednesday that seems to have become the team’s unofficial motto for the season. He was asked about how Kendall Williams was OK with going from scoring 46 points last Saturday in a win at Colorado State to making just one field goal but dishing out eight assists in the SDSU win. Kirk said, “You can’t guard an unselfish team.” The Lobos have embraced the notion of a different man stepping up each night and don’t seem to care who that guy is from game to game. That makes them hard to prepare for. When CSU keyed Tony Snell last week in Fort Collins (Snell had 23 points against the Rams in their first game), Williams went off. It’s hard to know which player will be the guy each game.
Q: What do you think is biggest thing Wyoming needs to do well to have a chance for the upset, or is there anything it can do?
A: I don’t anticipate the game plan for UNM to be much different than it was in Laramie. Attack the post with Cameron Bairstow and Kirk on offense and offer defensive in the post on the other end to ensure Leonard Washington does not go off. Let Wyoming take 3-pointers all game if it wants to. When UNM did that last time, it resulted in UNM’s starting post players having 26 points and holding Washington to zero first-half points. But the reason the Cowboys were tied in the closing seconds was because they hit 12 3-pointers. If they can knock down the outside shots in the Pit, they’ll have a chance because the opportunities will be there.
Q: When post players Kirk and Bairstow, who combined for 41 points in the win over San Diego State Wednesday, get going, how hard are the Lobos to beat?
A: Short of the absurd game that was Kendall Williams hitting 10 3-pointers and scoring 46 points against Colorado State, there is nothing that makes the Lobos more dangerous than Kirk and Bairstow having solid offensive games in the post. No question it opens up everything the Lobos are trying to do on offense when that happens.
Q: With a chance to win at least a share of the regular-season conference title with a win over Wyoming, do you think there will be a letdown for the Lobos coming off the San Diego State win?
A: There could be a bit of a letdown, but not likely as it is senior day for popular reserves Chad Adams and Jamal Fenton, the two winningest players in UNM history (104 wins over past four seasons). Their last game in the Pit and a chance to cut down the nets in front of the home crowd, I don’t think a let down is worrying the Lobos as much as the Cowboys’ defense.
Q: Albuquerque is already a basketball-crazy place when it comes to the Lobos, but has that been magnified even more with the success of this year’s squad?
A: The home attendance this season (already factoring in the 15,411 sell out for the Wyoming game that has been sold out for more than a week) will average 15,022, the first time in a decade (2002-03) it’s been over 15,000. That’s 97.5 percent capacity for the entire season. The fans are as crazed as they have been in the Steve Alford era and have also already accounted for more than 3,200 all-session tickets purchased for the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, including many that purchased tickets through other school’s ticket offices when there were no more available at the UNM Ticket Office. I’d say the fan base is pretty excited up about this season’s team.