With family in tow, Williams lifts New Mexico with record day
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The slogan, etched in script at the bottom of a large tattoo collection that covers the length of Kendall Williams's left upper arm, says "Family before Fantasy." On Saturday, the order was reversed, but Williams got to experience both.
With many of his relatives from around the Front Range watching from the Moby Arena stands, the New Mexico junior guard exploded for an arena-record 46 points, including a Mountain West Conference record 10 three-pointers. The Lobos basically needed all of it to beat back the bruising Colorado State Rams and take a chokehold on the conference title race with a pulsating 91-82 road victory.
Afterward, a smiling but humble Williams, whose previous career highs were 24 points and five threes, tried to describe a once-in-a-career shooting night.
"It kinda just creeps on you," Williams said. "You build the confidence throughout the game, then you look up at the end and you have 40 points, and you're like, 'Oh, I guess it was a good night.'"
Williams, who said his best high school effort was 40 points (and it came in a loss) was, as head coach Steve Alford put it, "on a 40-minute roll." He made all five of his three-point attempts in the first half and then cashed in five more in the second stanza, even after he had to sit out a chunk of time after picking up his fourth foul with nine minutes left in the game. His final three, flat-footed from deep in the corner while heavily guarded, was a backbreaker, putting the Lobos up six with 2:01 left.
In a game where three Rams scored at least 20 points and New Mexico teammate Alex Kirk chipped in with a high-impact 19 points and 10 rebounds, everyone in the arena knew there was only one talking point. And a familiar national name from recent Mountain West seasons past surfaced in the postgame.
"That was incredible," said Kirk, who held his own in a two-hour slam dance with Rams center Colton Iverson. "Besides seeing Jimmer [Fredette] in the Mountain West tournament freshmen year going off like that, that was something special. And it meant a lot. It wasn't like it was a ho-hum game. It was a big-time game, a big-time performance."
Alford himself is no stranger to big performances. One of the best guards in the modern era of the college game, Alford twice averaged over 22 points a game while at Indiana in the mid-1980s. He shot at least 53.8 percent from the field in each of his first three seasons, and then as a senior, in his only season with the three-point arc, Alford made 53.0 percent of his attempts from behind the line. He was a two-time first-team All-American.
To put Williams's performance in greater perspective, Alford said that he never reached either of the milestones during his four years as a Hoosier.
"I think 42 was the most I ever scored, and eight 3s was the most I ever made in a game," Alford said. "So I told him that was a special night, even from a coaching standpoint, to watch one of your players have a night like that. That was a lot of fun. I'm very, very happy for him."
Also happy for Williams was the group of around 15 relatives that milled around him and the other Lobos after the game by one end of the court. Williams' grandmother, Janie Daniels was there, wearing (appropriately) a "Kendall's Grandma" T-shirt. His aunt, Landa Daniels, also was around, with a bunch of other relatives of various generations. Williams had to interrupt the gathering to do some media interviews, then came back out to his family, all the while smiling but nonchalant, mostly humbled by what he and the Lobos had accomplished. Victory was theirs, and the league title likely will be, too.
Toward the end of his media session, Williams was asked about his tattoo and which part of the equation was more meaningful given the confluence that occurred. He laughed, thought for a second, and then stayed with what's gotten him to this point.
"You still gotta stick to family," he said. "It says 'Family before Fantasy,' so there's always priorities there, but this is definitely a dream come true."