By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. — University of New Mexico star Darington Hobson hobbled into Friday afternoon’s press conference, answered a few questions about how he’ll be ready to play in today’s game against Washington, then he limped away while stretching out his shooting hand.
It was the kind of sight that could put fear into the hearts of UNM fans, and yet Hobson and his teammates and coaches are convinced that he’ll be fine when the Lobos play UW this afternoon.
“I knew he was coming back,” teammate Dairese Gary said Friday afternoon. “He gets hurt a lot and rolls around and gets back up. I wasn’t too worried about it.”
Hobson hurt himself while taking a nasty fall during the second half of Thursday night’s win over Montana. He had X-rays on his left wrist for a possible fracture Friday, but they came up negative.
“It’s sore, (but) it’s tournament time,” said Hobson, who also hurt his tailbone in the fall. “I’m not going to let it affect me.”
That would come as a huge sigh of relief to a New Mexico team that has relied on the All-America candidate all season. Hobson led the eighth-ranked Lobos (30-4) in scoring (16.2 points per game), rebounds (9.3) and assists (4.6) during the regular season.
“It’s good to have a player like Darington on the court,” Gary said of his 6-foot-7 teammate. “He makes the game easier for his teammates.”
Said Lobos coach Steve Alford on Friday afternoon: “He seems to be better today (as of Friday afternoon). So hopefully by (game time), he’llbe as near 100 percent as possible.”
What could have been
Among the schools that recruited Hobson out of Decatur (Ill.) Christian High School in 2007 was UW. But the Huskies backed off because Hobson had yet to get qualifying scores on his SAT and ACT tests, and the school had eligibility concerns.
Hobson ended up signing with Pepperdine out of high school, but he didn’t make grades and moved to Las Vegas before signing with UNM. He ended up going to the College of Eastern Utah for two years, then became eligible to play for the Lobos as a junior.
In his only season at New Mexico, he has become the Mountain West Conference player of the year and a legitimate candidate for All-America honors.
“He could play on any team in the Pac-10 and could be an impact player in the Pac-10 — there is no doubt about that,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said Friday. “And I don’t see why he couldn’t do that for any team in the country.”
When it comes to 3-point shooting, UW sophomore Elston Turner Jr. has been as hot as the San Jose weather this week.
Turner made four of five 3-point shots in Thursday’s NCAA opener while playing in a city that has featured temperatures in the upper 70s. His 14 points in the win over Marquette marked the third-highest total of Turner’s career.
His timing couldn’t be better.
“That’s the second consecutive game where the stakes were extremely high — as high as they’ve been all year — and he plays like a fifth-year senior,” Romar said, referring to a big 3-pointer that Turner hit in the final minutes of the Pac-10 tournament championship game.
Turner leads the Huskies in 3-point percentage (38.2) and has been particularly effective over the past 15 games (46.8). No performance was bigger than Thursday night’s.
“I was just getting opportunities and looking for them,” Turner said. “(Teammate) Isaiah (Thomas) was finding me and getting (the ball) to me, and I was just taking advantage of it.”
The two coaches in today’s UW-New Mexico game know each other well.
Romar and Alford both played in the NBA, both are members of the NABC Ministry team, and their wives are good friends.
“I’ve always had the utmost respect for Steve,” Romar said. “… He’s hard-nosed, and he’s a fantastic basketball coach. And he can still shoot, too.”
Alford, who led Indiana to a national title in 1987, holds Romar in similar regard.
“He’s one of those guys and (coaching one of those) programs that I follow and check scores and those types of things,” Alford said. “Extremely classy guy, does it the right way, one of those guys in the profession that you root for.”
Cinderella in wolves’ clothing
It wasn’t that long ago that the Butler Bulldogs were everyone’s Cinderella underdog. After becoming a national power in recent years, the private school in Indianapolis has turned into the Duke of the San Jose regional teams.
On Friday, Bulldogs players Willie Veasley and Ronald Nored were asked whether there was a danger of looking past today’s opponent, Murray State.
“That’s not happening,” Nored said. “We’re in the round of 32, and every team that’s here now is a great team.”
UW’s Thomas wore his protective glove during Friday’s practice but said he’ll leave it behind when the Huskies play New Mexico today. He said the hand injury that he suffered more than a month ago hasn’t been too noticeable in recent games. “I had so much adrenaline going (on Thursday night) that I didn’t really feel anything except that last fall,” he said. Thomas crashed to the floor during the Thursday win over Marquette but does not think he did any more damage to the hand. … The Huskies have an all-time record of 5-3 in second round games, including a 4-1 mark since the field was expanded to include 64 teams in 1984. Last year’s loss to Purdue was the first defeat in a second-round game since 1951.