A week ago, the NCAA Division I basketball tournament reached its apex. And the University of Connecticut won. Nope, not the men's game, which was fantastic, sure, but the women's game. It was truly historic, and not just according to the wonks at 538, the newly minted sports blog from famed statistician Nate Silver. While there have been undefeated teams ostensibly playing for a national championship before—in college football at least—that's never been the case in basketball.
Many say the latest victory for the UConn women represents an endorsement of their coach, Geno Auriemma. With long-time rival Pat Summitt retired, it seems as though almost no one can stand in the way of the Huskies and their long-running records. Notre Dame fought valiantly for their place as the spoiler, and maybe if they'd had Natalie Achonwa or Ace playing alongside her senior teammates, things could have gone differently.
There's no shame in losing to this UConn team, but there are definitely columnists who have wondered if all those Husky wins piling up are leading to Geno and Co. fatigue. While Mechelle Voepel argues that UConn's winning ways are good for women's basketball overall, there's definitely room for disagreement. Kate Fagan reasons that games are better when they're truly competitive and if Notre Dame represents the best team that UConn had to face, things are getting into a bad place. The bottom line: We need a multitude of better teams, not just UConn.
The takeaway a week later, with almost no one talking about the women's game, despite the WNBA Draft already occurring, is that NCAA Division I basketball is still all about the men's game. March Madness, to most people, means men's games exclusively. Even if—or rather, when—two undefeated teams play, something that has never happened in the sport before, there's very little attention for the women. Something needs to change.
When UNM was tossed from the NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance didn't stop. Last weekend, the tourney was whittled down to the Final Four. The University of Florida Gators, the Wisconsin Badgers, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Connecticut Huskies are the the last four teams left in Division I college basketball. Of these last four teams, there is only one number one seed left: the top team overall, Billy Donovan's crew.
Kentucky has proved the pre-season hype to be justified, defying the odds of an 8 seed. Coach Calipari has coaxed the most out of his powerful, notably Aaron Harrison. Harrison knocked in a 3 ball with 2.3 second left to upset 2-seed Michigan on Sunday night. The Wildcats entered the season with hefty expectations but failed to live up on them for the majority of the slog. With 10 losses, the season could have been seen as a letdown; until March Madness began. After knocking out previously unbeaten Wichita State and intrastate rival Louisville, the team seems to be playing their best ball at the perfect time.
The Connecticut Huskies, on the other hand, may have also been ranked for much of the beginning of the season, but never had the expectations of Big Blue foisted upon them. UConn, content to fly under the radar for much of the season, dominated trendy pre-Tourney pick, Michigan State on Sunday. While the final margin was only six points, UConn seemed to be in control of their destiny for the majority of the game. This has been the case since they needed overtime o take out St. Joe's in the first round of the Tournament. Shabazz Napier, the senior guard from Storrs, has put the team on his back, and his free throws seemed to clinch the game.
The aforementioned, overall number one seed Florida cruised past the previous upset-minded Dayton Flyers. This is nothing new for the Gators, who won it all in 2007 and have been to the Elite Eight for the last three years in a row. Florida's coach, Billy Donovan, has been here before and seems poised – at least mathematically – for a run to the championship.
However, the team that the majority of the nation has rallied around by far is Wisconsin. The Badgers have shown tremendous tenacity and the play of Frank Kaminsky is a big part of their overtime victory against the West Region 1 seed Arizona Wildcats. Although Wisconsin entered the post-season as a 2 seed, most pundits overlooked the team in their predictions of who would be left standing at this time of the year.
The semifinal matches will be played on Saturday night, with both games televised on TBS. The final matchup, for the national championship, will take place on Monday, April 7. If your bracket is busted, take comfort in the knowledge that so is everyone else's and enjoy some quality basketball.
The Holly Holm train is pulling into the Route 66 Casino tonight where the legendary boxer will face her seventh opponent in chain-link cage, as she continues her new MMA career. Holm has been courted by the UFC in recent weeks, though her management supposedly pissed off Dana White, presumably for asking for too much money (though it should be noted that White gets pissed if the wind blows).
The last time Holm fought, I had recommended that you go see her because it may be your last chance to see her fight in Albuquerque, before she gets swept up by the UFC. But this time, it seems like the opposite is true. If Holm continues to circle outside the UFC, she’ll probably be back at the 66 for at least another fight. If she joins the show and signs with the UFC, it might be in time for the June 7 card, headlined by Diego Sanchez vs Ross Pearson.
Such speculation, of course, is dependent on her winning tonight, which is a safe bet. But things will get interesting if the fight goes to the mat, where Holm is much less comfortable and experienced.
Holm may not want to go to the ground, but that’s what the world needs to see—if not this fight, then some other future fight—before she can be taken seriously as a threat to the UFC Bantamweight title held by Ronda Rousey. The champ has won most of her fights by arm bar, and would look to do the same against the Duke City striker. The best thing that could happen for Holly in this fight would be to slam Werner to the mat and submit her, preferably by arm bar. If she does that and calls out Rousey, Dana White would pee, a little bit anyway, in his pants.
But should Holm win, there is another high-profile fight that will be on her more immediate horizon: Christiana “Cyborg” Justino, the only other female MMA fighter outside the UFC who generates a buzz on par with Holm’s. According to her trainer Mike Winkeljohn, they will be trying to make this happen should Holly win.
I'm just saying: if Holly wins, her vs Cyborg on the June 7th card would tear the roof off of Tingly Coliseum, dontcha think?
Several teammates of "The Preacher's Daughter" will be on the card tonight, including Jackson-Winkeljohn products Clint Roberts and Nick Urso, two homegrown beasts you want on your side. Jesse Tafoya of Wink’s Gym, where Holm teaches and trains, is on the preliminary card.
The main card starts at 9 pm, and takes place at the Rt. 66 Casino on I 40. It will also be on AXSTV. The preliminary card starts at 7:30, and can only be witnessed live.
See you there, so look for the drunk guy in the Hawaiian shirt, and come say "hi."
Kendall Williams hits a deep (unadvised) three that pretty much seals the game.
The University of New Mexico men's basketball team is going dancing. There was never any doubt. Not after winning the Mountain West tournament. Not after the automatic bid that comes with that win. The only question was one of seeding. And what of the moment on Sunday afternoon when it was revealed that UNM received a 7 seed and will have to play in the South Region and face a potential match-up with 2-seed Kansas in the second round? Well, it seems like feelings in the land of Cherry and Silver are running high.
New Mexico's first game against 10-seeded Stanford is no walk. And after flaming out against Harvard last year, there's plenty of emotion about facing yet another school known primarily for its academics. Stanford finished their season with a 21-12 record, as opposed to the Lobos' 27-6. The Cardinal plays in the vaunted Pac-12 Conference, where they ended up a pedestrian sixth—but every team that finished ahead of them in their conference wound up in the NCAA Tournament as well.
In fact, spurned Lobos fans, still bitter about many events from last year, are looking way past Stanford. Some are even looking forward to a potential Elite Eight matchup with UCLA—the team that ex-head coach Steve Alford bolted for after New Mexico was bounced in last year's Big Dance.
However, that's putting the cart way before the horse. Stanford will want to make waves by taking out the back-to-back-to-back Mountain West champs. No team goes into a game hoping or expecting to lose. But should the Lobos get past the Harvard of the West, they'll face stiff competition in a Kansas team that many were shocked to see fail to garner a 1 seed. The bit of good news for New Mexico fans is that the Lobos have already played Kansas. The better news is that Kansas was only up 1 point, 39-38, at halftime of that game. The horrible news? The Jayhawks ran away in the second half, finally winning 80-63.
If the Lobos can make it through opening weekend, the tournament doesn't get a lot easier, as they're in the same grouping as overall number one seed, Florida. However, the talent on this team believes they're capable of making a deep run; let's not forget all those #UnfinishedBusiness tweets from the beginning of the year. This is when that follow-through gets to the proving time and first-year head coach Craig Neal continues a proud tradition.
The post-game semi-scuffle between UNM and SDSU begins.
The University of New Mexico Lobos men's basketball team has had a great month. February, with one minor aberration that might come back to haunt the team, was a good time for Coach Neal and his squad. That hiccup—a loss to Boise State University on Feb. 12—was followed up by two quick and easy wins over Mountain West Conference also-rans Nevada and UNLV. However, on Saturday, February 22, things picked up a notch.
San Diego State University—then ranked #6 in the nation—came to visit the Pit, expecting to walk all over the unranked Lobos. The cherry and silver squad, though, quickly ran away with the game. UNM led by as much as 9 in the first half and opened up the second on a 21-2 run that hammered the game out of the Runnin' Rebels' reach. While UNLV did make a run at the end of the game to keep it respectable, it was a huge showing for the Lobos on national television on a Saturday night. The game ended with UNM up by 14, winning the game 58-44.
That win was marred, however, by some pushing in the post-game handshake line, and from there, things got worse. It appears from the video footage that some Lobo fan (or fans) threw something at the UNLV players as they were leaving the court. Coach Neal was unhappy and the Lobos faced plenty of bad press over the ugly incident.
The great game was almost overshadowed by the poor reactions, but on Monday, Feb. 25, the Lobos got the good news they were waiting for: a return to the Top 25. At #25, UNM entered the night's match-up with Utah State heavily favored. The Lobos proceeded to play some terrible first half basketball. When the first 20 minutes expired, Utah State was up one, 27-26. However, in the second half, Coach Neal called upon his son, sometimes-maligned Cullen Neal, ex-Eldorado standout, for a key three pointer. Neal's bucket began a 23-5 run that put the Lobos up for good, stamping out the chances for an upset by the Aggies. The Lobos wound up with a win, 67-58.
inally, as the calendar finally flipped over to March, the Lobos headed up to Nevada on Sunday night. Once again, things looked ugly in the first half. Against a 13-15 Wolf Pack, the Lobos trailed by 4 at half and appeared sloppy at many points. The second half rally got UNM through a middling Nevada squad, but the Lobos have more to worry about than a 72-58 win over a team that is now .500.
In two of the last three games, Cameron Bairstow has scored more than 20 points, but the Lobos have also trailed in two of those last three games at halftime. With a game against Air Force in the Pit as the last regular-season home game, the Lobos need to build some serious momentum on Wednesday night. Why? Their last regular-season game of the season isn't at home emdash it's at San Diego State on Saturday, March 8. The Aztecs, currently sitting at #10, will be sure to have revenge on their minds.
With only those two games left and the Mountain West Conference occurring in Vegas in a mere week and a half, the Lobos are playing great second-half ball, but will need to be able to put together a complete and solid game in order to make the splash that all of Albuquerque wants in the NCAA Tournament.
The play that sealed the game for Seattle over San Francisco
The final four teams in the National Football League have been whittled down to two. The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will meet on Sunday, Feb. 2 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In the first game on Sunday afternoon, the New England Patriots visited Mile High Stadium in Denver, losing to the Broncos. Peyton Manning and company jumped out to a meager 3-0 lead in the first quarter. However, once the second quarter began, Manning went on a 7-minute drive for the first touchdown of the game. Nine minutes in, the Patriots finally kicked a field goal to get on the board. With only 30 seconds left in the first half, Matt Prater kicked his own for Denver, and New England couldn't do anything in the time remaining, sending the game to halftime with the Broncos up 13-3.
When the Broncos received the ball to start the second half, they began a drive that culminated with a Manning touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas that took up almost half the quarter. Denver worked methodically—but not slowly—and went up 20-3. Of course, Tom Brady and the Patriots have never been a team to roll over and die.
Subsequently, on their next drive, the Patriots, driven by Brady's accuracy and coach Bill Belichick's relentlessness, went for the first down on 4th and 2. Unfortunately for New England, Brady was sacked on the play by Terrance Knighton. To add insult to injury, on Denver's first play after the turnover, Manning threw for more than 20 yards to Thomas once again, setting up the switch of sides on the field between the third and the fourth. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Broncos had a mere 12 yards to conquer. However, it took the orange squad more than three minutes of game time to score, as Denver was called for holding twice on that opening drive. The Broncos settled for a field goal, going up 23-3 with 12 minutes left in the game.
Then things got crazy. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an impeccable touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin and the Seahawks drove back up their side for a field goal, kicked by Steven Hauschka. With a 17-13 edge, the 49ers began the 4th quarter on defense.
New England still gave it a go in the 4th quarter, driving for a touchdown with just over three minutes remaining. When the Pats went for 2 and failed in their conversion, though, the game took on an all-but inevitable feel. The proceeding onside kick was successfully caught by the Broncos and the formality of running through an obligatory offense began to unfold. Belichick took the timeouts he still had, and the two-minute warning stopped the action one more time, but the game was over.
In the second game of the afternoon, the Seahawks pulled out a victory in Seattle. The first half gave the illusion that the game was the 49ers' to lose, with San Francisco going into the tunnel up 10-3. But the third quarter started with a bang, as Marshawn Lynch ran in a touchdown for Seattle, knotting the score at 10-10.
Then things got crazy. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an impeccable touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin and the Seahawks drove back up their side for a field goal, kicked by Steven Hauschka. With a 17-13 edge, the 49ers began the 4th quarter on defense.
On 4th and 7, Seattle QB Russell Wilson tossed a bomb to Jermaine Kearse, going 35 yards for the touchdown and the first lead of the game for the Seahawks. When Hauschka kicked yet another field goal with only three and a half minutes remaining, the 49ers suddenly needed a touchdown. Kaepernick put them in great position to get the win, throwing a beautiful pass to Michael Crabtree with thirty seconds left on the clock. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, though, was there for the block, tipping it to Malcolm Smith, who laid down in the end zone. The game ended with the Seahawks up 23-17.
With the Pro Bowl next weekend, Super Bowl XLVIII two weeks away and media week in between, we'll have plenty of time to ponder questions about the big game coming up. Sherman already made some provocative comments after the victory against San Francisco, which certainly dispel some of the pre-game narrative that Seattle was the blue-collar hard-working team. And Peyton Manning will face plenty of questions, yet again, about his ability to perform in cold weather. In 2 weeks, the 2013-2014 NFL season will be over. For now, though, we've got two teams left.
Game-winning touchdown thrown by Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton
Look, let's just get this out of the way first: The Cincinnati Bengals had home field advantage, a better record and, at least according to some people, were supposed to win. But in what turned into the only letdown game of the first weekend of the 2014 NFL Playoffs, the San Diego Chargers won at Paul Brown Stadium to set up a rematch with the Broncos next weekend. Faithful supporters of the orange guys up north will remember that the Chargers and Denver split their regular season games, each team winning as the visitor.
Aside from that single blowout, though, the remaining three games in the National Football League's first weekend of Playoffs were decided by a collective six points. Three teams advanced to face the next round of playoffs and three teams are now at home, and will watch those games on TV. All because of only a single touchdown's worth of points. An amazing weekend of football, made better only by the sheer number of points that got it all started.
On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs, who started the season so well by becoming the last unbeaten team in the league in week 10, lost to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts scored 35 points in the second half to mount the second-largest playoff comeback of all time. Luck had three—of his four total—touchdown passes in the second half and put the final points on the board with a beauty of a toss to a wide open T.Y. Hilton. The Chiefs had a chance to win the game after that drive by Indy, but fell short. However, the game was truly decided on the play before, when the Colts fumbled the ball going into the endzone. Luck, thinking quickly, scooped it up and dove in for a touchdown, which made Indy's momentum seem inescapable. The Colts finished the game 45-44 and will move on to play the New England Patriots in the next round.
Just after the Colts finished breaking the hearts of Kansas City fans all across the nation, the Saints took the field in Philadelphia. New Orleans had never won a playoff game on another field, and they had the better record, so there were legitimate concerns. But the Eagles allowed Drew Brees to get into field goal range, where Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal was good for the win. After a snoozer of a first quarter, where neither team scored any points, the Saints and the Eagles went back and forth. In fact, halfway through the third, the game was verging on a Saints blowout over the Eagles, who finally got their mojo back on a TD pass from Nick Foles with just under five minutes left in the game. It wasn't to be, though, as Drew Brees fought to set his kicker up with great position. The Saints will now travel, once again, though this time without that daunting 0-5 record outside their home field in the Playoffs. They've got quite the matchup, though, traveling to Seattle, to play the NFC one seed Seahawks.
Finally, after the Chargers/Browns upset, the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Green Bay for the game that had been talked about all week. With concerns about the extreme cold settling in over the East Coast and parts of the Midwest, there had been inevitable comparisons to the infamous Ice Bowl and constant interview questions directed toward the Californians: How will you deal with the cold? Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for San Francisco, put on a cold-weather show, and then sat back and did his best Drew Brees impression, with kicker Phil Dawson ending the game. As time expired, the three points put the 49ers on top of the Packers, 23-20. San Francisco will journey to Carolina and face the Panthers next week.
So a weekend full of the visitors winning, almost all of the games coming down to the wire and some spectacular performances. What can the NFL do next weekend for a sequel?
On Friday afternoon, the University of New Mexico soccer team lost in the Final Four of the NCAA post-season tournament. Although UNM did a good job of controlling possession and took as many shots on goal as the Fighting Irish did, they allowed an early slip in defense, which led opportunistic Patrick Hodan to a goal in the seventh minute. With that disadvantage ensconced in their minds, the Lobos refused to play timid, challenging the staunch Notre Dame offense again and again.
As the second half began, though, and time started to slip through the fingers of the Cherry and Silver, things got a bit more tight. The set pieces started to develop for both teams—there were no corner kicks in the first half, and 8 total in the second. UNM still played the role of the aggressor, but it was clear by the mid-point of the second half that it was because they had to, not because they wanted to. Finally, in the 65th minute, Notre Dame connected again with the back of the net. Again, it was Hodan, this time off an extremely odd miss, hammered off the crossbar by Vince Cicciarelli and followed up on by Hodan after an unlucky Lobo touch.
From then on, it was desperation mode for coach Jeremy Fishbein and his crew; watching their magical season evaporate in front of their eyes and on ESPNU. When the final whistle sounded, UNM was still down 0-2, and Notre Dame was advancing, although their opponent was still to be determined at the time. Later Friday evening, Maryland took down Virginia for their place in the national title match.
There have got to be several consolations to ending the season in a loss, even in the face of departure from their seniors. Kyle Venter has been invited to the MLS Super Draft and is almost certain to be selected, while goalkeeper Michael Lisch and a pair of Michaels—Kafarri and Calderon—will all be gone next year, even if they don't all make it to the MLS. But the silver lining to these heavy contributors leaving the team is that there is a strong youth movement behind them. For a team that sometimes felt like it was overachieving this year, there's a solid foundation to build upon next year. And, much like this year's eventual champion, Notre Dame, there's a strong chance the Lobos will come back stronger next season.
The Lobos played yet another fantastic season and have much to be proud of. The future looks bright.
The Lobo soccer team continued its roll in the NCAA post-season tournament on Sunday, winning the match against Penn State by a final score of 2-0. The opportunities for more scoring in the match were numerous, but the Lobos just could not connect for the extra insurance. However, as the clock ticked down the seconds of the Sweet Sixteen game, it became apparent that the bonus points weren't needed—the Lobos are now headed back to the Elite Eight for their second time since 2005.
The Lobos will match up in Seattle against the University of Washington Huskies, where the current head coach is Jamie Clark—a man well-known in Albuquerque for his role as an assistant coach to the Lobos from 2002 to 2005. Clark served under current head coach Jeremy Fishbein and was present for some of the most exciting times in Lobo soccer. Ultimately, he would depart the Cherry and Silver squad when an opportunity arose at Notre Dame, where he would assist under his father. After brief stints at Harvard and Creighton, Clark has now taken the Huskies to their first Elite Eight appearance in school history.
Neither Washington nor UNM have faced ranked opponents in the Tournament thus far, but if the Lobos win the game on Saturday, they'll have to travel again. Their opponent, should they win in Washington? Either an upstart Michigan State team, or the Notre Dame team that Clark left UNM to work with.
Either way, Coach Fishbein, cognizant of having been here before, says he would love to continue playing at home, but the team is ready to take the battle up to Washington. As one of only three programs in the nation to make three consecutive Sweet Sixteens, the Lobos will look to match or beat their prior best; the last time UNM made it past the Sweet Sixteen, they went all the way to the national championship game, before ultimately falling to Maryland.
The UNM/UW game will be streamed online Saturday, Dec. 7 at 6pm MST and should be shown at various bars around town. The soccer program is making waves yet again as an organization worth the time to support.
Sure, it’s a damn shame that the UFC may never do a show in Albuquerque. After all, Duke City has some of the most committed fight fans on earth. On the flipside, we’ve got some of the best fighters as well, with both home-grown talent and fighters hat have immigrated here to train at Jackson/Winkeljohn MMA, as well as some of the other gyms, like FIT NHB. That adds up to local Mixed Martial Arts events stacked with top caliber talent, fighters that may very soon be competing at the sport’s highest level.
Case in point: Friday, Dec. 6, at the Route 66 Casino, the Fresquez Productions’ “Havoc” fight card, featuring Holly Holm vs Angela Hayes at bantamweight (135 lbs). The UFC has already expressed interest in Holm, and UFC president Dana White has acknowledge to being pestered to the point of desperation with questions about when the organization will sign her. Holm is being touted by many fans and media as a potential solution to Ronda Rousey's dominance.
Thus far, no opponent has escaped the first round without tapping to an armbar, much less beaten the UFC champion. Holm, a world champion boxer, and, according to her coach Mike Winkeljohn a “better kickboxer” is a fearsome striker, who has never been taken down or threatened on the ground in five professional MMA fights. But five of her opponent’s six wins are by submission, which means this could finally be the time Holm is tested on the ground. And we have the opportunity to see what happens, live. As soon as Holm gets picked up by the UFC, you might not be able to see her fight in Albuquerque ever again, so take advantage!
Also on the card, flyweight Nick Urso, a Jackson/Winkeljohn product like Holm. SouthWestFightNews notes, “Urso’s combination of speed, technique and natural talent has placed his name front-and-center in the discussion of who is New Mexico’s best fighter not-signed by a major MMA promotion.”
Urso will be fighting Jesus Urbina of Bushido MMA in El Paso. Again, SouthWestFightNews: “Urbina is very tough in all areas of MMA as he can trade punches in and outside of the pocket, he is very good at scrambling in his defensive grappling and he can finish fights when he gets top position on the mat. All of those compliments only accent his respected wrestling game; Urbina in fact has a collegiate wrestling background. “
Another fighter on the card we should be exited to see is Jackson/Winkeljohn welterweight (170 lbs) Clint Roberts, who will fight Eddie Gamboa, also of El Paso’s Bushido MMA. Roberts is a powerful, well-rounded fighter who would likely be making big waves by now if he didn’t keep getting injured. Most recently: a broken hand suffered in his last fight. It the knockout win, he ended up breaking his hand on his opponents’ head.
Many other local prospects will be fighting as well, including Cody East, Chuck Pieritz, Gabriel Benitez, Ricky Esquibel, and Mike Benefiel. The six-bout main card is preceded by a five-fight amateur undercard, which starts at seven. The public is invited to attend the weigh-in on Thursday at 2 pm, at the Route 66 Casino.