SALT LAKE CITY - Before he built his reputation on the three-point line, he hated the idea of it.

"I was against it," Belmont coach Rick Byrd said Wednesday as his Bruins prepared for today's NCAA tournament game against the Arizona Wildcats. "I was kinda conservative on rules, and I thought, 'Why are we starting to get points on longer shots?'

"I think it takes more skill to get closer to the basket. Maybe we should invert that, and give them more points if you didn't have to get the ball close and score it? And I'm not much at mathematics."

Byrd was in his first season at then-NAIA Belmont when the NCAA introduced the three-point line for the start of the 1986-87 season. He said he would have voted against it - but "nobody asked me."

Quickly, though, Byrd realized he could use the rule to his advantage. As an assistant at Tennessee Tech, he saw his head coach eschew the three-point shot, then an experimental rule.

Besides, Belmont was at a recruiting disadvantage. When the school became a provisional Division I-A school in 1996, Belmont had to recruit players without the lure of making the Big Dance.

"I thought the most under-recruited guy was a guy that could shoot it and maybe didn't reach the athletic line that a lot of coaches in Division I want as a player," said Byrd, who has won 663 of 1,008 career games. "We continued to recruit along those lines, and now we have a team of much better athletes.

"But we've never lost the sort of primary skill - that you need to be able to make shots if you're going to play that style of offense."

Senior guard Ian Clark, whose 46.3 percent three-point clip is tops in the nation, said there shouldn't be much of a difference between Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena and his home Curb Event Center, which holds about one-quarter of the crowd.

"I love playing in big arenas - it's fun for me and a great atmosphere," he said.

Clark, who averages 18.1 points, said he was sure the Bruins would acclimate to the NBA arena in time for today's game.

"Once we get out there and get acquainted with the court and everything, it's still two goals, 94 feet," he said.

New deal

New Mexico coach Steve Alford agreed to a 10-year contract Wednesday that, starting April 1, could keep him in Albuquerque through 2023. The deal will give him a $240,000 raise in base salary, according to the Albuquerque Journal, plus added bonuses and a great salary pool for assistants.

"I don't know that it was about timing as it was just coming to terms, and knowing that this is where I wanted to be," Alford said. "This is a commitment that I wanted to make more than anything else, because I found an institution, I found an area of the country, that I really, really like.

"We're extremely successful, and we think we can be even more successful in the future."

Center Alex Kirk praised the deal.

"As a New Mexican and seeing the coaches come throughout my lifetime, it's definitely a great thing for the university and for the state," he said. "Because the success he's brought to the program and the recognition has helped out the state a ton."

Rim shots

• Mark Few has a 13-year-old son who's never known a world in which his dad's team missed the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga has reached the Big Dance 15 straight times, an accomplishment Few singled out as his most impressive.

"I have a 13-year-old son whose favorite day in the whole world is Selection Sunday, and it's just not reality," he said.

"You think about, 'How many people are disappointed?' He likes it better than he does his own birthday. That's not real, y'know? That, to me, is incredible, what our guys have been able to do all these years."

• With snow threatening Boston, Harvard flew to Salt Lake City early, on Monday. But the Crimson waited until Wednesday night to put in a game plan for New Mexico, preferring to focus on itself instead.

• Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said his Shockers can't give Pitt easy baskets "on layups, dunks, tip-ins, atomic bombs, where we turn the ball over and they get a basket."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley