The New Mexico men fell from the ranks of the unbeatens last Saturday. Six days later, they took down an undefeated team.
Behind a strong defensive effort, the Lobos toppled No. 8 Cincinnati 55-54 for the Bearcats’ first setback of 2012-13. UNM (13-1) suffered its first loss Saturday against South Dakota State.
UNM’s defense held Cincinnati (12-1) to 31.3 percent from the field, primarily on 3-point shooting. The Bearcats were 11 of 26 from long range but missed 27 shots inside the arc. The Lobos committed 12 fouls on mostly non-shooting calls, and Cincinnati took only four fouls shots in the game.
“To come in here and hold them to 54 points, that’s pretty pleasing for a basketball coach,” UNM head coach Steve Alford said. “Our kids are tough and play hard and fight. We’re sitting here 13-1 and it’s not because we’re lighting things up. We came on the road and shot 38 percent and won.
“So it’s been our defense, it’s been our fight, and I think we had it tonight. If you play Cincinnati, you’d better come with that.”
The Bearcats led the close game early, holding a 26-22 lead at halftime. UNM took its first lead in the second half, benefitting from 11 straight Cincinnati missed shots. Neither team led by more than six points in a game with seven lead changes and six ties.
Sophomore center Alex Kirk helped spark the rally, scoring nine of his 15 points in the second half. He finished 6 of 8 from the field with a team-high seven rebounds. He blocked a shot at the buzzer taken by Cincinnati junior guard Sean Kilpatrick to help seal the victory.
“I knew if I went out, it would be pretty difficult for him to get a shot over me and Tony Snell,” Kirk said. “I went out with my hands up and he was forced to take a tough shot. Luckily, I got my hand on it.”
Junior guard Kendall Williams led UNM’s scoring with 16 points. Junior guard Tony Snell added 10 points. Sophomore guard Hugh Greenwood did not score but provided a career-high eight assists. The Lobos were 21 of 54 from the field (38.9 percent), 7 of 19 from 3-point range (36.8 percent) and 6 of 11 from the foul line (54.5 percent).
Kilpatrick scored 15 points for Cincinnati, followed by senior guard JaQuon Parker with 14 points and senior guard Cashmere Wright with 12. Senior center Cheikh Mbodj had a game-high 10 rebounds as Cincinnati out-rebounded UNM 40-35.
Only four undefeated teams remain in NCAA Division I: Duke, Michigan, Arizona and Wyoming.
“Things have been too easy for us,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We were going to get taught a lesson sooner or later. It manifests itself in many ways. Our inside finishing is beyond soft. You hold a team to 55 points, you should be able to win the game.”
Associated Press writer Joe Kay contributed to this report.