By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was Lobos slugging it out with BYU and it was a great fight between heavyweights. It also was New Mexico's Dairese Gary vs. BYU's Jimmer Fredette and that was just as good. The best thing? The score: New Mexico 76, BYU 72.
The Mountain West Conference race to the 2010 throne no longer has one team surging ahead of the pack. The No. 10/12 ranked Brigham Young Cougars were slapped with their first MWC loss of the season Wednesday night in The Pit by a fired-up Lobo team, and an on-fire junior point guard.
"You have a league race," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "Had BYU won this one, there are a lot of guys looking up at them. We are playing well and we have our swagger back."
Gary was one Lobo with a special swagger Wednesday in The Pit. The junior point guard, much like Fredette, seemed to score whenever his team needed a huge bucket.
"(Fredette) is a very special player, but I wouldn't trade my point guard for anyone," said Alford. "He's a warrior. He proved it tonight. That was two really, really good point guards going at each other."
It also was two good teams going at it and exchanging blows and baskets. The Lobos scratched to a four-point halftime lead at 36-32 and the two teams played even, 40-all, in the second half with neither team stepping down.
"We were going back and forth on each other," said Gary. "We figured we had to get this game. I guess you could say it was a must-win."
The Lobos had a scary moment with just under three minutes to play when a Fredette trey gave BYU a 64-62 lead. UNM came out of an Alford timeout and sophomore Phillip McDonald tossed in a floater off a drive and was fouled. His free throw gave the Lobos a 65-64 lead that UNM never surrendered. "McDonald hit a heck of a shot," said BYU coach Dave Rose.
A drive by Gary put UNM up 69-65 and two Gary free throws put UNM up 71-65. The Lobos held on to raise their record to 19-3 and 5-2 in MWC. BYU left town at 20-2 and 5-1. "He's a great finisher," Rose said of Gary. "He was a huge factor."
The Lobos were led by Gary with 25 points, 12-of-17 from the line. BYU got 27 from Fredette, 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Gary was joined in double figures by Roman Martinez with 12 and Curtis Dennis with 11. Junior Darington Hobson was massive on the boards with 14. UNM won that battle 47-to-41.
"(Dairese) is one of the most underrated players on our team and in the league," said Martinez.
The battle between the MWC's two ranked teams was fought in a sold-out Pit. Gary said that made a difference in the outcome.
"I felt like the floor was rumbling. It was ridiculous. I loved it," said Gary. "It's a great feeling to get a win over a team like BYU. They are an incredible team. Beating them shows us what we can do."
Said Martinez: "The fans are amazing. I can't tell you enough about how much our sixth man has helped us."
UNM shot 38.1 percent from the floor and BYU shot 38.1 percent -- dead even at 24-of-63. BYU got one more trey and UNM had five more free throws. BYU had 14 assists and UNM had 13 assists.
"We didn't make enough shots," said Rose. "Our guys competed, competed hard, and we had a chance to win." The Cougars' had a chance mostly because of Fredette. His 27 points were accented by a game-high seven assists.
"That is really a hard team to guard," said Alford. "I thought, for the most part, we did a good job on defense. I thought we made him (Fredette) work for (his points). He made some big threes late in the game.
"We just beat our fourth ranked team of the season. That's incredible in itself. We prepared for this game and fortunately we made a few more plays down the stretch."
Second Half -- Lobos 40, BYU 40
The Lobos came out of the half up by four and at the first media break (15:25), BYU had cut it by one: 44-41. The Cougars' last points going into that timeout came from a Fredette trey which was produced on a kickout pass after a BYU offensive board. Fredette was wide open at the top of the key and drained it.
The BYU star then took over the game for a short stretch with drives and passing. He drove and twice found a wide-open Tavernari, who made a layup and a baseline trey. Alford had enough of Fredette and called a timeout with the score knotted at 46-all.
UNM came out of the huddle and got Martinez open for a trey: 49-46. Dennis followed that with another trey, this one off the baseline in front of the Lobo bench. UNM was up 52-46. A BYU steal off a Dennis pass led to a Cougar layup and UNM took a 52-49 lead into the media break at 11:56.
A Lobo steal and a Dennis layup led to a 54-49 UNM lead and brought The Pit to its feet. A BYU drive by, who else, Fredette produced a Fredette layup followed by a Fredette free throw. UNM's lead was cut to 54-52. BYU's superman turned the ball over on a drive which led to Nate Garth floating a high pass over the UNM rim for Brown. Brown slammed it down and UNM was up 56-52.
Fredette hit two free throws: 56-54. McDonald followed with a trey: 59-54. The Lobos took that five-point lead into a break at the 7:55 mark. UNM was shooting 47.4 percent and BYU was at 41.2 percent. BYU came out of their huddle with Fredette getting a breather on the bench. The BYU guard came back at 5:52. UNM was up 60-56, still that halftime margin of four points.
BYU then clawed the lead back away from UNM. Fredette came off a screen and popped in a long 3-pointer. The Cougs were up 64-62 and Alford called a timeout with 2:56 to play. McDonald pushed UNM into a 64-all tie with a short drive and a floater that dropped. He was fouled on the shot by Fredette. The teams went into a break at the 2:28 mark. Fredette had 24 points.
McDonald came out of the UNM huddle and hit the free shot. UNM was back up, 65-64. Fredette missed on a drive, forcing a shot inside. UNM's Hardeman threw in a layup at the other end: 67-64. BYU got a single free throw: 67-65.
Gary then blew by the BYU defense to drop in a shot over the rim. This was not a power drive. This was an explosion. BYU was now down by four points, 69-65, and the Cougars went into a timeout.
Fredette then drove at Gary, was pressured by the Lobo, and missed. He fouled Gary on the rebound. Gary tossed in both free throws: 71-65. BYU got a layup and called timeout with 59.5 to play, down 71-67. BYU needed some steals, but more likely needed to see Lobos miss at the free-throw line.
BYU let 24 seconds go by before fouling Gary. He went to the line with 35.2 to play and made both free shots out of a one-and-one situation. UNM was up 73-67. BYU was in trouble, but they still had Fredette. He threw in a trey: 73-70, and BYU called time with 26.2 to play.
BYU probably didn't want to see Gary back at the line, but that's what they got with 25.8 to go. Gary was looking at two free shots this time. He made one: 74-70. BYU's Emery missed a long trey and UNM had the ball with 14 seconds to go.
Gary was back at the line with 12.5 to play. He hit them both and UNM was rolling, 76-70. BYU got a layup inside and BYU sent Martinez to the line standing on that four-point halftime lead with 3.3 to play. Martinez missed both shots and that halftime margin ended up as the final margin: 76-72.
First Half -- Lobos 36, BYU 32
It probably went down as no surprise that BYU's Fredette was the leading scorer in the first half with 13 points. The good news for UNM was Gary was only a point back at 12. Those two classy point guards took turns taking the game over and both did it mostly off drives. Fredette's drives were more flash and Gary's were more power. Both styles produced.
The Lobos shot 31.4 percent field (11-of-35). BYU went 31.3 percent (10-of-32). Both teams had five turnovers and UNM was up five on the boards, 23-to-28. The Lobos had only one field goal apiece from Hobson, Hardeman and Martinez. BYU's inside game of Noah Hartsock and Chris Miles went 1-of-6 from the floor.
At the first media break at 15:56, it was as it started: Lobos and Cougars tied, this time at 7-all. BYU's Fredette hit the first basket of the game to hand the Cougars a 3-0 lead. UNM got a bank shot from Hardeman in the lane, a Martinez trey, and two free throws from Hobson to earn their seven points. UNM was shooting 22.2 percent at the break and BYU was at 42.9 percent, but there was only a one field goal difference. The Lobos had nine attempts to seven for BYU.
The Lobos went up 11-9 on back-to-back buckets from Gary and then extended that lead to 13-9 on a vicious Brown slam on a follow of a Curtis Dennis miss. The Pit was rocking. UNM stayed up 15-11 when Hobson outbattled the Cougars under the glass for a putback. Dennis hit two free throws to make it 17-11 in UNM's favor.
The Lobos took that six-point lead into the next break at 11:59. The Lobos' defensive pressure had intensified and BYU was forcing up bad shots over that Lobo pressure. The Cougars had missed all five of their field goal attempts since opening 3-of-7 from the floor. BYU was now shooting 25 percent from the floor. The Lobos had taken nine more shots than BYU and had one turnover to four for the Cougars.
Fredette bricked a trey -- air ball -- at 10:21, to The Pit's delight. It got better when Gary beat the shot clock and the BYU zone at the other end to roll UNM into a 22-13 lead. At the 7:09 break, a 3-pointer from BYU's Emery had cut UNM's lead down to 22-18. BYU was still shooting 25 percent. UNM wasn't much better at 29.6 percent.
Fenton pushed the Lobos into a 25-18 lead with a long trey from the right wing. UNM went up 28-19 on a McDonald trey from the right corner. Hardeman got fouled on a rebound and was looking at a one-and-one with 5:56 to play. He missed short.
Fredette came off the bench and burned Fenton on a baseline drive: 28-21. The BYU junior took the Lobo freshman into the lane a few seconds later, threw out a spin move and BYU was down 28-23. UNM called a timeout and came out of the huddle with Gary back on Fredette.
Fredette faked a trey and fed the ball inside for a dunk by Hartsock: 28-25. Hobson drove and got fouled, hit one: 29-25. Gary threw a power drive at the BYU defense that ended in a layup. UNM took a 31-25 lead into the 3:19 break.
The Lobos came out of that huddle and got two free throws from Dennis: 33-25. BYU's Fredette scored out of transition over Gary: 33-29. Gary got hooked on a drive and hit two free shots: 35-29. BYU's Jonathan Tavernari hit a baseline trey off a Fredette pass: 35-32. Gary got fouled again and made one: 36-32. The half ended that way.