Ask UNM men’s head basketball coach Steve Alford about his Lobos’ undefeated start, and he’ll say he is “pleasantly pleased.”
But an Alford mood swing might be forthcoming on Wednesday when No. 25 California walks down The Pit ramp to give UNM its first real challenge of the year.
The Lobos understand the task ahead of them, Alford said.
“We’re talking about a top 25 team,” he said. “Their only losses are Ohio State, who is obviously an outstanding basketball team, and Syracuse. So, we understand the job at hand. They have a lot of seniors and experience on this team. They can really shoot the basketball and it presents a lot of challenges.”
This is the first time a ranked team has visited The Pit in nearly three years. The last time the Lobos faced a top 25 team was Jan. 9, 2007, when No. 15 Air Force beat UNM by eight points.
Cal began the season ranked No. 13 and is picked to win the Pac-10 title. The Bears are 4-2 after a 21-point thumping over Princeton on Sunday, 81-60.
The two losses for Cal came in the 2K Sports Classic, which benefitted Coaches vs. Cancer at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 19-20.
“They have won two games at home since,” Alford said. “They got beat twice up in New York. So their confidence is back. They are extremely well-coached, and it will be a great game for us.”
For UNM senior Roman Martinez, the Bears are a familiar foe.
Two years ago, when Martinez was a sophomore, the J.R. Giddens-led Lobos lost at Cal by two points in the first round of the NIT.
Martinez said it is a huge game for the Lobos to play a ranked team at home, and it will benefit the young players on the team.
“All the guys on the team are excited,” he said. “We have to understand, at the same time, we’re not just going to go out there and beat a top 25 team. We have to defend like always, and it’s going to take a little bit more with them being so good and playing tough teams.”
What has helped the Lobos get off to a quick start, Martinez said, is the team’s attention to detail.
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“Well, I think we are doing the little things,” Martinez said. “I think we are getting focused before games and we are doing great on scout (team). The guys are responding and I am proud of what we have done and I am sure Coach (Alford) is, too. But it’s not over. The toughness factor has to kick in for a team. Just from here on out we have some real tough games.”
The Cal game is the first of what could be three or four possible top-ranked, non-conference opponents for UNM over the stretch of December, but fortunately the Lobos are playing good basketball right now, Alford said.
“We have had some really good competition,” he said. “So we are very pleased that this is will be our most demanding week from a team standpoint of who we have
*Men’s basketball vs. California