Significance, style, smoothness, singularity, surreality — Kendall Williams’ Saturday showcase in the Fort Range had a touch of each.
The junior Lobos guard accomplished over the weekend what his heralded head coach never could during a fabled four-year playing career at Indiana: scoring 46 in a game of any magnitude. Williams dropped a career-high in points and set a new Mountain West Conference record for 3-pointers in a single game (10) — nearly doubling his previous career highs (24 points and 5 made 3s, respectively) — as New Mexico arm-barred Colorado State to take a stranglehold of the high-caliber league. Call him Kendall the Clutch or simply opportunistic, the UNM point guard couldn’t have picked a more meaningful time to write his college basketball epithet.
In a game where three Rams cracked 20 points, Williams nearly outdid the trio collectively. He nailed a game-changer, crowd-silencer and back-breaker all in one mean 40-minute spree, delivering the virtuosic performance New Mexico needed to snap Colorado State’s 27-game home winning streak. Removing any one of his timely buckets would have restored CSU’s unbeaten spell in Fort Collins.
An ultra-talented but streaky guard who has struggled harnessing consistency and becoming a more efficient scorer, Williams stabilized at just the right time. He made 12 of 16 shots, including 10 of 13 from behind the arc, and finished just two points shy of an unfathomable 3.0 points per shot average. So much for the sub-40-percent shooter that arrived in Larimer County.
If he hadn’t left five points at the free throw line, Williams would have become the second Division-I player this season to eclipse the half-century mark in a game. Pretty impressive for a player who hadn’t scored more than 14 points in a conference game entering Saturday’s action.
For Williams to notch college basketball’s top individual performance of the year in a pressure cooker at soldout Moby Arena — a game rife with conference standings implications and intensified by a national television audience — corroborates just how high the ceiling is in Albuquerque. Think Kendall’s vertical as a baseline.
The Lobos have dealt four different schools their only home loss of the season and snapped a pair of double-digit home winning streaks in so doing. A team without a senior starter is visibly growing on the offensive end, and if Williams’ outburst was a sign of his brightening star, the team may have a newfound scoring punch to support its already rigid D.
New Mexico is buckled into the driver’s seat of the MWC, needing two wins in its final four games to win the regular season crown outright and just one to secure the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament next month in Vegas. The best team in the nation’s second best conference, New Mexico is every bit a Final Four threat in a college landscape searching for bona fide contenders.
No. 10 is the No. 1 reason why.
Stenciled in script across Kendall Williams’ left upper arm reads his life creed: “Family before Fantasy.” On Saturday, with dozens of relatives shoehorned into Moby Arena, he got to experience both.
His second family in Albuquerque is living out its own fantasy as a result.