For no good reason other than BallinEurope displaying pride in his alma mater, BiE today congratulates the University of New Mexico Lobos in winning their second-round NCAA Tournament match against the Long Beach State 49ers, 75-68. Drew Gordon, the Lobos’ potential NBAer – the Draft Express mock 2012 draft has him going to the Boston Celtics in round two – contributed an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double plus some excellent defense in the win.
And now, the angst.
UNM fans know we’ve been here before. Playing in one of the toughest arenas for the visiting side in all of American basketball – the fantastic Bob King Court, a.k.a. The Pit – the Lobos ran up a 14-2 record in Albuquerque with the average result in these games a 21.25-point win. Indeed, the only win under double figures was a four-point squeaker against perpetual tournament nemeses the St. Louis Billikens.
And as usual, Lobo backers were given the traditional false sense of security (that the locals, blessed with selective short-term memory loss and/or ultra-optimistic viewpoint, are always swept away with) when UNM jumped out to a 15-2 start in 2011-12, looking nearly invincible against Mountain West Conference opponents plus the likes of Houston Baptist and University of Missouri Kansas City. The cherry-and-silver even managed their regular early-season “upset” against a big-name NCAA school in taking out USC (at The Pit, natch) in December.
Admittedly, the Lobos’ overall mark for the season ended up at 28-6, meaning a respectable 14-4 record away; yes, this is probably the strongest UNM roster since the days of Danny Granger; and yes, the Lobos seem to match up well against no. 4 seed Louisville Cardinals, who they face tomorrow. But still – perhaps it’s the influence of living in pessimistic Hungary for so long – BiE just ain’t ready to believe.
(Update: A Facebook-posted comment from BiE’s friend Ted, a longtime Albuquerque resident and UNM alum, noted that “UNM played Louisville almost 15 years ago to the day in the round of 32: March 16, 1997, and lost 64-63 in the single most disappointing Lobo game I’ve ever watched. Those were the Dave Bliss/Kenny Thomas Lobos.”)
As outlets from ESPN down the university newspaper/website The Daily Lobo note, “UNM has been knocked out of the round of 32 in the NCAA tourney five of its last six appearances.” Indeed, the long-term fan may recall the Lobos’ infuriating ability to be kingmakers in the Big Dance: The last recipient of UNM’s generosity was the University of Washington in 2010, an 11 seed which hung an 18-point loss on the AP no. 8 Lobos.
For this Lobos fan, precedent was set back in 1991. After a disturbing first-round Western Athletic Conference tournament bouncing, UNM was a surprise inclusion in the tournament in what felt like a blatant sop to NBA scouts wishing to check out prospective lottery pick Luc Longley. Drawing a 10am tipoff time, the Lobos that year were bounced by Oklahoma State before much of the Albuquerque community had slept off their hangovers.
But of course, March Madness isn’t about pessimism or history, right? It’s all about the hopes of Cinderellas and the wills of the elite. Anything can happen, right? BiE will be sure to repeat this last particular mantra on Saturday, but the fear that the Lobos are certain to break the optimist’s heart is certainly strong. UNM backers, let us pray to the basketball gods … and go Lobos! (Please?)