March 4, 2008
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)--J.R. Giddens had 17 points and 15 rebounds in what was likely his final homecourt appearance, lifting New Mexico to a 59-45 win over UNLV on Tuesday night.
The Lobos (23-7, 10-5 Mountain West) snapped a four-game losing streak to UNLV (22-7, 11-4) and logged a key victory as they seek to improve their argument for receiving a possible at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.
Giddens was a force, collecting eight rebounds by halftime in his final homecourt appearance--barring a trip to the National Invitation Tournament. The Kansas transfer also had five assists and a steal.
Fans in the student section chanted Giddens' name in the closing minutes, then "M.V.P" after the final horn, lobbying for Giddens to be named the Mountain West's player of the year.
UNLV point guard Wink Adams scored 12, four points below his average, but went scoreless in the second half. The Rebels shot 33 percent from the floor, hitting just 18-of-54.
UNLV had won four straight over New Mexico, including a 79-60 decision in Las Vegas on Feb. 2 when UNLV opened with a 21-5 run. The Lobos refused to let it happen again, forcing a grinding pace for a 24-22 halftime lead.
From there, New Mexico turned the tables, starting the second half with an 11-0 burst that stretched the lead to 35-24.
The Rebels missed their first four field goal tries and had three turnovers after the break, and the capacity crowd of 18,018 fans was at full roar as Chad Toppert hit a 3-pointer to force a UNLV timeout.
"I appreciate what these three young men have done for us with their leadership, their toughness," Lobos coach Steve Alford said in a postgame ceremony. "That's what you need for building blocks in a new program."
After the Rebels cut the deficit to 43-33 at the 10-minute mark, Prentice threw a long pass to Giddens for a thunderous slam dunk that kept the fans standing and the crowd noise at full volume.
Then, Roman Martinez collected a miss and banked it in to push New Mexico's lead to 47-33 with 7:44 remaining, and UNLV trailed 51-37 with 5 minutes to go when Smith drew the fourth and fifth fouls on Rebels point guard Wink Adams.
UNLV coach Lon Kruger was furious with the call, but his team never got the margin into double digits again.
With the victory, Alford set a school record for most wins by a first-year coach. Dave Bliss went 22-11 in his first season coaching the Lobos, back in 1988-89.
The Pit was sold out, just like a week earlier for an overtime loss to BYU. It marked the first consecutive sellouts since the Lobos faced Arizona and New Mexico State early in the 1996-97 season.