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Friday, December 19, 2014

Men's Basketball: Another NCAA second-round loss for No. 7 seed Lobos

Pool start plagues UNM in 58-53 loss to Stanford

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New Mexico’s #UnfinishedBusiness remains incomplete.

For the second straight year the Lobos exited early from the NCAA tournament after 58-53 second-round loss to Stanford in Friday’s South Region contest. It ends the Lobos’ season with a 27-7 record in Craig Neal’s first year as head coach.

The start to its NCAA tournament run could not have started any worse for seventh seed UNM: a 17-0 Stanford run, two fouls for center Alex Kirk, two airballed 3-point attempts. The Lobos found themselves down 20-4 after missing seven consecutive shots, but rallied back in the final 12:59 in the first half to trail by five points at halftime.

UNM could not overcome that deficit despite a 24-point effort from Mountain West tournament MVP Cameron Bairstow. UNM tied the game at 45 points but never took the lead down the stretch.

“Not a lot of fun,” Neal said after the game.

The Lobos created the Twitter hashtag, #UnfinishedBusiness, and put those on T-shirts. Neal insisted on Monday the hashtag made reference to unfinished business for the Lobo program as a whole and not this year’s team in particular.

UNM has never progressed into the Sweet 16 since the NCAA increased the tournament to 64, and later 68, teams. That includes last year with a stunning upset as a No. 3 seed to Harvard, and this loss to No. 10 seed Stanford.

“No, I don’t have any unfinished business. I mean, I’ve not – it doesn’t concern me,” Neal said. “We’ve done about everything you can do. It is just about getting better in the tournament. We’ve won championships, regular-season championships, won conference tournament championships. We just haven’t found our rhythm in this game or the second game.”

Bairstow called the hashtag’s use “something more for the fans,” although some UNM officials like athletic director Paul Krebs have used the phrase as well.

“I think we as a team had, of course, expectations of postseason success, especially after last year,” he said. “And unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.

UNM’s only lead of the game came early, 4-3, before Stanford’s big run.

Guard Kendall Williams was virtually non-existent for much of the first half, airballing a 3-point shot from the corner early. He did not take another shot for 16 minutes, this time finding the net.

His only other shot, coming in the final two seconds of the game, missed the mark. One free throw in the final moments closed out his Lobo career. Though Williams did not contribute much in the scoring column, he provided a game-high five assists.

Kirk picked up two fouls in the first 3 1/2 minutes and did not re-enter the game until eight minutes. He registered only one rebound and scored no points in 11 first-half minutes. He finished with three points, all from the foul line in the second half.

Neal attributed Kirk’s scoreless first half to foul trouble.

“You know, it’s just one of those things where he couldn’t get it going, couldn’t get in a rhythm, and I think the foul trouble hurt him,” Neal said.

Bairstow was the only leg of UNM’s Big Three to establish any sort of rhythm. While Kirk sat, Stanford limited touches for Bairstow for a time. It was only a matter of time before the Mountain West tournament MVP found a rhythm, and he finished the first half with 12 points.

He came out in the second half and scored on UNM’s first four possessions and cut a five-point Stanford lead to 37-35. The Lobos stayed within two points until a triple pushed the Cardinal lead back to five, 43-38. A Bairstow jumper opened a 7-2 run that tied the game at 45 but Stanford responded with a 7-0 run.

UNM got to within two points only one other time, at 54-52, but no closer.

“I think we did a good job to battle back, and to that point in the second half I thought we were playing reasonably well offensively,” Bairstow said. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t knock down shots down the stretch for whatever reason.”

Guard Deshawn Delaney joined Bairstow in double figures with 10 points. Bairstow also pulled down a game-high eight rebounds.

Stanford put three in double figures: guard Chasson Randel with 23 off 7-of-15 shooting, center Stefan Nastic with 10 off 5-of-6 shooting, and guard Anthony Brown with 10.