Feb. 27, 2010
Saturday: Lobos 83, Brigham Young 81
Wednesday: TCU at Lobos, 6:30 p.m., The Pit
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Lobos probably could have cut down the nets in Provo. When the buzzer sounded in a stunned and suddenly-quiet Marriott Center, the Lobos were Kings of the Mountain West hill.
But it's kind of hard to cut down nets when you are rolling on the floor. That was the way it ended Saturday in Provo. With Lobos hugging Lobos, erupting with unbridled and well-deserved joy as an amazing Mountain West journey pulled into a pit stop at the expense of the Brigham Young Cougars.
Dust off a spot in the new Pit for the 2010 Mountain West Championship banner. Measure the Lobos for championships rings. Warn the NCAA that these 27-3 Lobos are on the way.
Steve Alford's New Mexico Lobos (13-2 MWC) claimed at least a share of that crown with an 83-81 victory over BYU. The Lobos can get selfish Wednesday in a sold-out Pit by claiming the outright title with a win over TCU.
"There is nothing our guys are more excited about than cutting down the nets Wednesday in front of our fans," said Alford. "Bottom line, we are conference champions."
That bottom line didn't come to the Lobos easy in Provo. The Lobos overcame some sloppy ball handling at the end and a few too many missed free throws, but came up with two huge plays from Darington Hobson and A.J. Hardeman to escape Provo with UNM's 13th straight MWC win. The win also gave UNM the No. 1 seed in the MWC Tournament. UNM will play either Wyoming or Air Force in the first round of the tournament on Thursday, March 11, in Las Vegas.
"Last year, we had to win five in a row down the stretch to win the title," said Alford. "This year we start 0-2 and have to win 13 in a row. We've won seven straight road games. This team is amazing."
The Lobos used treys from Hobson and senior Roman Martinez to drift up 80-76. When BYU missed a trey, UNM had the ball with 2:30 to play and things were looking good. The Lobos needed to take care of the ball and maybe get to the line. The Lobos turned it over three times in the next minute and a half.
Hobson turned it over with 1:26 to play. BYU's Michael Loyd made a layup and it was 80-78. UNM's Dairese Gary dribbled into a BYU defensive triangle and lost the ball. Loyd got another layup to form an 80-80 tie. Alford called time with 52.1 to play. The Marriott Center was on its feet, 22,700 strong.
UNM went to a staple play coming out of that huddle: a power drive by Gary. He missed and the ball was headed toward a waiting Cougar. Hardeman then made maybe the play of the game for UNM -- up to that point. He came out of nowhere to snatch down Gary's miss with a big right hand. Hardeman then threw up an off-balance shot that rolled in. UNM was up 82-80.
"He gets the biggest rebound and putback of his career,"said Alford.
UNM was up 83-81 when Gary went back to the line with 17.4 ticks to go. Gary was short, then long. BYU had a chance to go up or tie. BYU's Noah Hartsock got the ball inside with about three seconds to go and was powering in for a layup or maybe a dunk.
Hobson came over with weak-side help and made the play of the game. He swatted the big Cougar's shot. Will Brown came down with the rebound with 0.9 to play and that was it. UNM had the win, the title, the No. 1 tourney seed.
"I told him it was about time he made a defensive play," joked Alford of Hobson's block. "I think he's the MVP of this league. The biggest game of the season and he comes up with 20 (points) and 14 (rebounds)."
You have to give the Cougars' credit in their second-half charge to defend their turf and try to pull the MWC crown away from the Lobos. BYU played the second half without their MWC Player of The Year candidate, Jimmer Fredette. The league's leading scorer did not play in the second half due to an illness. He finished with six points in 16 minutes of play.
Hobson was joined in double figures by Gary with 23 and Martinez with 15. Gary had six assists to one turnover and Martinez had seven rebounds and three steals. UNM shot 43.5 percent from behind the line and 50 percent overall.
The hole left by Fredette was filled nicely off the bench by BYU's Michael Loyd with 19 points. Tyler Haws had 18 and Jackson Emery chipped in 11. BYU shot 28.6 percent from behind the arc: 6-of-21.
The Lobos had 43 boards, 16 turnovers, and 36 points in the paint. BYU had 32 boards, seven turnovers and 40 points in the paint. BYU was 15-of-21 from the line. UNM was 9-of-20.
"It's been an amazing run with an amazing group of young men," said Alford. "We are New Mexico. We've been saying that all year. I'm so proud of these guys. We maybe don't have all the pieces, but they go out there and keep finding a way to win."
The Lobos can claim the outright MWC title in The Pit, but Alford says he won't be talking about Horned Frogs for a while.
"I'll worry about how hungry they are (for TCU) on Monday," said Alford. "We are going to have fun at the Provo Marriott. It doesn't do me any good to go back and start talking about Wednesday's game. They won't be listening and they deserve to enjoy this one for a while."
Second Half -- Brigham Young 46, Lobos 40
The Lobos came out of the half up by eight and pushed it to ten on a drive by Gary. The Lobos then hit a rough spot that got the Marriott Center rocking. When BYU's Loyd threw down a dunk, Alford called at timeout with his Lobos up 46-45, with the Marriott Center on its feet. At the 15:47 media break, the score was still 46-45.
The Cougars went up 57-53 before Martinez cut it to 57-56 on a long trey near the top of the key. The Cougars continued to get solid play out of Loyd and Martinez popped in some huge shots for UNM.
A Martinez trey at 11:15 locked the game at 59-all. Martinez curled off a pick and threw in a short runner to pull UNM to 63-61. Haws posted up to hit a turnaround and hand BYU a 68-63 lead.
The Lobos came back. A big play was a typical Martinez play with 7:19 to go. Garth missed two free throws, but Martinez got the board. That led to a Hardeman score inside. UNM was down 68-65.
UNM grabbed the lead back on a McDonald trey: 70-69. Hobson scored inside and UNM was up 73-71. Tavernari tied it a 73-all, scoring inside.
The Lobos then drifted away at a good time. Martinez banged in a trey, Hobson hit a trey and UNM slipped up 80-76. BYU missed a trey and UNM had the ball with 2:30 to play.
Hobson turned it over with 1:26 to play. Loyd made a layup: 80-78. Gary dribbled into a BYU defensive triangle and lost the ball. Loyd got a wide-open layup to form an 80-all tie. UNM called a timeout with 52.1 to play.
That's when Gary missed his drive and Hardeman followed to put UNM up 82-80.
BYU's Jonathan Tavernari missed a trey and Gary was at the line with 28.3 to go. He made the second shot and UNM was up 83-80. BYU's Haws missed an open trey on the baseline, but Emery stole the rebound from Hardeman. Hardeman fought back and picked up his fifth foul. The Lobo went to the bench. The Cougar went to the line and made one: 83-81.
Gary had a chance to ice the game with 17.4 to go. Gary was short, then long. BYU had a chance, but then Hobson came up with his block. Brown was fouled with 0.9 to go. Missed them both, but BYU never got a final shot off.
First Half -- Lobos 43, Brigham Young 35
From the beginning, the game was as it should be. The Lobos and the Cougars flowed down the court defining the afternoon with a fluid combination of power and finesse that pushed these two talented teams above the MWC competition most of the season.
The edge for the Lobos in the first half was their star, Darington Hobson, had more of an impact on the scoreboard than did BYU's star, Jimmer Fredette. Hobson was the best player on the court in the first half. The Lobos held Fredette to six points in the half. Hobson had 10 points, but was a factor on the boards and in breaking down the BYU defense. Gary also was a huge factor for UNM on his power drives.
Hobson got off to a good start. At the 14:19 break, it was a little too much Hobson for the Cougars and UNM held a slim 14-12 lead. The Lobos' talented junior had a trey, a dunk, a follow and an assist to Hardeman for a dunk. The pace definitely was transition but the Lobos were getting back and contested the BYU shots
At the 11:08 break, the teams were knotted at 22-22. The Lobos' eight points from the previous break came from Martinez (4), Garth on a drive and Brown on a dunk off a follow of a Garth miss.
The Lobos drifted up 29-24 on a baseline trey by Hobson BYU had cut it to 29-28 at the 7:41 break. At the 3:48 break, not much had changed. UNM was up 35-33. Gary scored twice for UNM on drives and Brown scored on another follow.
McDonald banged in a 3-pointer on the baseline to push UNM up 38-33. The Cougars hit a short cold spell, broken by Tavernari with a power spin inside. UNM was up 38-35. Brown extended UNM's lead to 40-35 on an 8-footer. Gary hit a single free throw and UNM was up 41-35.
Fredette forced a shot inside giving UNM a final look at the basket. Gary hit a 15-footer and the Lobos strolled into the half up 43-35 -- an 8-point lead.