New Mexico

New Mexico officially names Craig Neal head coach

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Remove the “interim” tag from his title.

New Mexico officially announced Tuesday that longtime assistant and short-time interim head coach Craig Neal will take over the program after the departure of Steve Alford to UCLA.

It will be announced to the public Wednesday at a press conference.

Neal had coached alongside Alford at New Mexico for six seasons. Prior to his time with the Lobos, he was on the bench with Alford at Iowa. Neal also has experience as an assistant coach at the NBA level with the Toronto Raptors. He had emerged as a top candidate to replace Alford on a full-time basis since the time of Alford’s decision to head to Westwood.

Neal now inherits a team that returns nearly all major pieces from its Mountain West title team this season with the exception of Tony Snell. The decision to hire Neal on a full-time basis puts New Mexico in a better position to keep center Alex Kirk, who reportedly said that he would transfer if any coach other than Neal was brought into the program.

New Mexico finished 29-6 this past season, including 13-3 in the MWC. The Lobos lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Harvard.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Steve Alford reportedly hired as next coach at UCLA

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UCLA has reportedly found its replacement for former coach Ben Howland.

According to Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com, the Bruins have come to an agreement with New Mexico coach Steve Alford on a seven-year contract worth $2.6 million per year.

Alford led New Mexico to both a Mountain West regular season and conference tournament title in 2012-13. The Lobos finished with a 29-6 record on the year after losing to No. 14-seeded Harvard in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament.

For his efforts, Alford signed a contract extension on March 20 that was set to keep him with New Mexico through the 2023 season. That contract was due to begin April 1, but now seems to be no more.

The report from CBS Sports also says UCLA will pay his buyout from New Mexico. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the buyout in his old deal is less than $200,000, while the new contract that was planned to take effect April 1 has a buyout of $1 million.

“We want him to be here at the University of New Mexico a long time,” New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs said at the time Alford signed with UNM just over a week ago. “Steve’s done a tremendous job — not only in wins and losses, but in graduation rate, presence in community, the good will. Look at all the national publicity about the program we’ve been receiving and he’s been a very good representative of this university in this time.”

New Mexico is now in need of a head coach and whoever they pursue will have a number of assets built into the program, among them a team that will return nearly every key piece other than Tony Snell and a strong tradition with a loyal base of fans.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Junior guard Demetrius Walker leaving New Mexico

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New Mexico junior guard Demetrius Walker is leaving the program for an unspecified reason, coach Steve Alford announced at a press conference Wednesday.

Walker was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules prior to the Mountain West tournament and did not play for the remainder of the year. Speculation had picked up recently that perhaps he would not return to the team.

“I won’t say any­more about it,” Al­ford said at the time of the suspension. “I want to pro­tect him ob­vi­ous­ly. It’s an in­def­i­nite sus­pen­sion and we’ll just see how it plays out the rest of the year.”

Walker averaged 5.0 points and 1.2 rebounds in just over 15 minutes per game this season. He transferred to New Mexico after playing one season at Arizona State. His best game of the 2012-13 season came on Nov. 23 when he scored 19 points in a win over Idaho. He sat out the final 10 games of the season, including New Mexico’s Round of 64 loss to No. 14-seed Harvard in the NCAA tournament.

He will reportedly not return to the school next season, but his future outside of that is unclear.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Pregame Shootaround 2.9.13: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith meet tough Notre Dame backcourt in South Bend

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Game of the Day: No. 11 Louisville vs. No. 25 Notre Dame (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Louisville has won three straight games after losing three in a row as part of a bad stretch in late January. In hand with that turnaround has been Peyton Siva reemerging after struggling during the Cardinals’ losing streak. Since Pitino’s team has bounced back, Siva has affected the game either by scoring or working for others, including a 10-assist game in a win over Pitt and a 14-point game in a win over Marquette.

That Siva/Russ Smith backcourt meets its match Saturday against Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, two guards who average over 20 points and 10 assists between them. On the interior, Louisville will  need to contain Big East Player of the Year candidate Jack Cooley, who has had a double-double in five of his last six games.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Dayton (-4) vs. Temple (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPNU)

Dayton has the advantage of being at home, but we the viewing audience will have the treat of a solid point guard matchup for brunch Saturday. Khalif Wyatt vs. Kevin Dillard is one of the better ones to follow not just among mid-majors, but in the country. Wyatt has had a flair for the dramatic this season, having put together stellar outings in a win over Syracuse and nearly pulling off an upset of Kansas.

Dillard, too, has had his moments. His 23 points against St. Joe’s lifted the Flyers to a key 60-54 win just this past Wednesday. Who would I take? It’s close, but I’ll take Wyatt and the Owls in the upset.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: No. 15 New Mexico vs. UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

The best non-BCS matchups somehow always happen to be in the Mountain West. We are gifted with another gem Saturday. The Lobos have bounced back with three straight wins after an embarrassing loss to San Diego State on Jan. 26. The three-point ball has been key in New Mexico’s last two wins and they will likely highlight that again Saturday.

For UNLV, they will need to look to Anthony Bennett, their talented Freshman of the Year candidate. If he gets into foul trouble, it could spell trouble for the Rebels. A loss to New Mexico on Jan. 9 saw Bennett score just 10 points and pick up four fouls. No Bennett likely means no key conference win for coach Dave Rice’s team.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Coming off perhaps the biggest upset loss of the season, No. 5 Kansas needs to turn things around–and fast. There are legitimate concerns about how the Jayhawks will handle their lack of a true, reliable point guard. Does that mean freshman Ben McLemore shifts it into another gear? Does it mean center Jeff Withey steps it up on both ends of the floor? We’ll see Saturday when Kansas meets Oklahoma.

2) Jim Larranaga is a real contender for National Coach of the Year. The Hurricanes are rolling and undefeated in ACC play. After North Carolina on Saturday, there is only a matchup with Duke remaining where they likely won’t be favored. Otherwise, this is beginning to look like Miami’s conference for the taking.

3) No. 19 Oregon has been without freshman point guard Dominic Artis as he sits with a foot injury. In that span, the Ducks are 1-3 and have struggled to control turnovers. There is reportedly no definitive timeline for his return, meaning he likely won’t be in the lineup when Dana Altman’s team meets Utah Saturday.

4) National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott was held to just eight points in Creighton’s loss to Indiana State on Wednesday. With that loss, the Bluejays fell to within one game of Wichita State and Indiana State in the Missouri Valley race. McDermott & Co. has a chance to get back on track Saturday vs. Illinois State.

5) Speaking of the Missouri Valley, Wichita State, a team that once climbed as high as No. 15 in the national polls, is on a bad losing skid in Missouri Valley play. The Shockers have lost three in a row and need Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early to step up as the scoring threats that they are in WSU wants to regain traction atop a crowded MVC. They take on Missouri State on Saturday.

The Top 25

No. 2 Florida vs. Mississippi State (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 3 Michigan vs. Wisconsin (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 5 Kansas vs. Oklahoma (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 6 Gonzaga vs. Loyola Marymount (8:00 p.m. ET, ROOT Sports)

No. 8 Miami vs. North Carolina (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 11 Louisville vs. No. 25 Notre Dame (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 12 Michigan State vs. Purdue (7:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 13 Kansas State vs. Iowa State (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 14 Butler vs. George Washington (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 15 New Mexico vs. UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

No. 16 Creighton vs. Illinois State (10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 17 Cincinnati vs. No. 23 Pittsburgh (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 19 Oregon vs. Utah (8:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

No. 20 Georgetown vs. Rutgers (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 21 Missouri vs. Ole Miss (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 22 Oklahoma State vs. Texas (1:45 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 24 Marquette vs. DePaul (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Other Notable Games

Temple vs. Dayton (11:00 a.m. ET, ESPNU)

Akron vs. Miami (OH) (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

St. Joseph’s vs. UMass (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Auburn vs. Kentucky (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Stanford vs. Arizona State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Virginia Commonwealth vs. Charlotte (7:00 p.m. ET)

Wichita State vs. Missouri State (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Wyoming vs. Boise State (8:00 p.m. ET)

Washington State vs. UCLA (10:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Saint Mary’s vs. San Diego (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 19 New Mexico outlasts Boise State in tough overtime test

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Tony Snell scored 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting to lead No. 19 New Mexico to a gritty road win over Boise State, 79-74, Wednesday night at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho.

Leon Rice’s Broncos led by as many as six points with 8:32 remaining in the second half, but the game stayed within four points for much of the final period.

New Mexico fought back with the help of two three-pointers from guard Jamal Fenton to give the Lobos the lead, 54-53, with 6:26 to play in regulation.

On Boise State’s last possession of regulation, Derrick Marks bled the shot clock down to 10 seconds and drove down the left side of the lane, but missed a contested floater. Marks finished with 27 points.

New Mexico got one more shot at it in regulation, but Kendall Williams’ step-back jumper missed and forced overtime.

In overtime, New Mexico pushed the lead to five points with 2:28 remaining, but Boise State cut it back to one possession, 71-69, after three key free throws.

A Hugh Greenwood three-pointer with 0:35 remaining proved to be the dagger, putting New Mexico up by five points.

Boise State did a solid job of containing and neutralizing New Mexico center Alex Kirk, who had 10 points on 1-of-4 shooting from the floor. His effort in the final minutes of regulation and overtime helped him to get to the free throw line, where he hit 8-of-8 shots. He fouled out with 2:09 to play in overtime.

The Broncos’ ability to make Kirk less of a scoring option forced the Lobos away from the basket. New Mexico shot 40.4 percent from the floor and was outrebounded soundly at -8.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 25 New Mexico holds off No. 24 UNLV in tough Mountain West opener

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The Mountain West is going to be the most exciting conference west of the Mississippi this season. Not convinced? Enter “Exhibit A,” UNLV-New Mexico Wednesday night.

Behind 23 points and eight rebounds from big man Alex Kirk, No. 25 New Mexico fought off a late push from No. 24 UNLV to win, 65-60, at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

New Mexico had trouble sealing the game with free throws down the stretch, but Tony Snell sunk two with eight seconds remaining finally put the game out of reach.

Poor shooting and bad shot selection played UNLV early in the first half, allowing New Mexico to jump out to a 7-2 lead three minutes in, but more ball movement made it nearly even through a majority of the first half.

But then the New Mexico defense cooled the Rebel attack and went on a 7-1 run to extend the lead to seven points.

Part of those struggles were because star freshman Anthony Bennett was not involved in the first half, scoring just four points. From the first possession of the second half, it was clear that UNLV wanted Bennett involved.

His baseline jumper gave him the first two points of his eight in the second half, though he picked up his fourth foul with just over 14 minutes to go. His absence allowed New Mexico back into the game.

The Rebels are also working to find their offensive identity when point guard Anthony Marshall is on the bench. Without a well-defined ball-handler for UNLV, New Mexico pressured defensively and the Rebels again began to take bad shots.

Against three athletic and highly skilled UNLV frontcourt players in Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser, and Khem Birch, New Mexico’s Alex Kirk was supposed to be challenged.

Instead, Kirk outplayed all of them, scoring 16 of his 23 points in the first half.

Kirk’s play set the tone and, at times, visibly frustrated the UNLV front line. Bennett picking up his fourth foul changed the way he was able to play, and Birch eventually fouled out Wednesday.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_