A big performance from junior Dane Kuiper and a second half resurgence wasn’t enough for the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team to pull off an improbable upset over No. 23 Arizona Saturday night.
And the 13,207 fans in attendance at Dreamstyle Arena made a lot of noise, but it did not seem to faze the Wildcats as they closed strong down the stretch.
Arizona improved its record to 8-3 after enduring a late surge by UNM to secure an 89-73 win, behind big performances from a handful of players and an impressive shooting performance as a team.
Arizona’s size and play-making ability not only made it easier for the team to score a lot in the paint, but it also set up shots from beyond the arc, too.
The visiting squad was led by sophomore Rawle Alkins, who had a game-high 26 points. And junior Allonzo Trier notched 22 points, as the pair seemed to score in droves. Freshman Deandre Ayton had 14 points, most of them coming off thunderous dunks.
The Wildcats shot the ball over 70 percent in the first half and, although they cooled off a bit in the second half, the team still ended up shooting 64 percent for the game. They also made nearly all of their 3-point attempts, hitting five in a row to start the game and finishing 9-for-13 overall.
Arizona's big men won the battle in the paint, outscoring New Mexico 42-20 down low and winning the rebounding battle 35-23.
UNM fell to 3-8 on the season despite Kuiper having a career night. He scored 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting, with six of those shots coming from 3-point land. It was also his birthday, something he said played a big part in his performance.
“I just really wanted to come out and stick to my form,” Kuiper said. “I said I’m either gonna foul out or score a lot because I (was) so excited (about my birthday).”
Arizona got out to a fast start, scoring five straight points on its first two possessions of the game before freshman Makuach Maluach scored the Lobos’ first points of the game on a layup.
Four minutes into the game, the Wildcats had already connected on three 3-point shots and enjoyed an 11-7 lead at the first media timeout.
The Lobos hung around early on and cashed in after junior Troy Simons was fouled on a 3-point attempt. He sank all three of his subsequent free throw attempts to bring his team within two points, 15-13, at the 13:40 mark.
But the Wildcats started to pull away as they strung together a 7-0 run and never really looked back. Arizona built a 16-point bulge, leading 49-33 at halftime and enjoyed a double-digit lead for most of the game.l
Lobo head coach Paul Weir seemed incensed by the lack of defensive effort in the first half, calling it one of he worst halves he’s coached in his career.
“We have a lot of work to do on defense,” Weir said. “That first 20 minutes was among the most embarrassing 20 minutes I’ve had in my career coaching. It’s unacceptable and it has to change if we’re going to turn the season around.”
In the second half, the Lobos picked their play up as they matched their first half 3-pointers made (5) within the first 10 minutes of play after halftime.
UNM got within striking distance later in the second half, drawing as close as seven points with a little less than three minutes remaining in the game after Kuiper knocked down a pair of free throws to make the score 78-71.
But Arizona went on an 11-2 spurt to close things out over the final few minutes, getting some easy layups and delivering a dagger 3-pointer with 1:05 left to push its lead back to 12.
The Lobos didn't have enough offensive firepower to match the Wildcats, as Simons was the only other UNM player to join Kuiper with a double-digit scoring performance. He ended the night with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
UNM shot just 38.7 percent from the floor as a team, though it did connect on 35.3 percent of its shots from long range.
Return of Sam Logwood:
Weir announced Logwood would be taking a leave of absence last Friday, but it didn't last long as the senior announced he was back via Twitter less than a week later.
Logwood did not start, but was subbed in after the first media timeout and logged 27 minutes of playing time. He chipped in eight points, but went just 3-for-10 from the field in his first action back after missing one game.
His return may have been somewhat of a surprise, considering Weir said during Thursday's press conference that it was unclear whether Logwood would play at all against Arizona.
In the postgame press conference, Simons didn't seem interested in talking about what it was like to have Logwood back on the court. He paused for a moment, looked at the sports information director—who said he didn't have to answer the question—and offered a succinct "I'm good" as a response.
UNM will stay at home for the next three games, starting with a Tuesday, Dec. 19 matchup against Rice at Dreamstyle Arena, which is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start time.
Matthew Narvaiz is a senior sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.