Cougar Bounces: New Mexico

After nearly two months and four straight losses on the road, BYU finally broke through and got that elusive road win. The Cougars defeated the New Mexico Lobos 70-49. Key to the victory BYU's ability to do things – like get scoring from the point and defending the perimeter – that they had not previously done on the road. The win kept BYU within one loss of league leading Air Force.

During the first weekend of December, BYU got an overtime victory over Weber State. The Cougars then lost their next four road games and it looked as if BYU might never win on the road.

Thankfully for BYU, a trip to the Pit was on the schedule. Although the Pit is usually a daunting place to play, the New Mexico Lobos had lost five of their last six games and were ripe for the picking. BYU obliged and picked the Lobos for a 70-49 victory.

Many of the questions that had been dogging the Cougars on the road were answered in the 21-point win. Could BYU get on the perimeter and defend the three-point shot? Yes. UNM shot just 4-16 from behind the arc. Could BYU's senior point guard Austin Ainge score on the road? Although he had scored just 12 points total in the last six road games Ainge came up with eight big points. Could the Cougars rebound on the road? For the first time in five games, BYU had the rebounding advantage (even if it was just by one).

The Cougars got a solid effort and production by the entire team. Freshman Jonathan Tavernari scored a team-high 18 points. Trent Plaisted added 11 and Jimmy Balderson continued his strong play of late with 10 points. Mike Rose came off the bench to hit two big threes and Sam Burgess helped with five points of his own.

The win set up a showdown with thirteenth ranked Air Force. The Falcons come to Provo this Saturday with a 6-1 conference record. A Cougar victory would pull them to within a half-game. The game will tip at 4:00 p.m. MST and will be broadcast on the mtn. BYU is so eager to pack the Marriott Center that they are offering $1 advanced purchase tickets. A "white-out" is also planned for the game.

GRADES:

Point: A. Ainge scored his eight points and had eight assists against just one turnover. He pushed the ball up the court and was in control most of the night. When he scores, BYU wins; when he does not score, the Cougs lose.

Wing: A. Tavernari is factored in here this game. The kid is a pure scorer. He has an extremely smooth shot and a soft touch. Rose's two three pointers were also important. The second helped fend off a Lobo run that had cut the lead to six. Burgess also gave good minutes and Balderson was aggressive in going to the hoop. Lee Cummard has not played well offensively the last few games due to his leg injury, but he still played solid defense. He contributed (along with a sore ankle) to hold UNM's leading scorer to zero points.

Post: B-. Keena Young and Plaisted were neither effective nor ineffective. They had a quiet night by their standards with just 19 points and seven rebounds between them. The fact that BYU could still win by 21-points on the road should be encouraging to Cougar fans. Vuk Ivanovic had a nice behind-the-back pass for an easy lay-up.

Coaches: A. Great game plan by the coaches. Twice BYU beat UNM for lay-ups off an in-bounds play. That's scouting a team and finding a weakness and exploiting it. The Cougars defensive game plan was ready for both an inside game and an outside game. After struggling on the road and not having success there, it would have been easy for the Cougars to mail this game in, but they didn't. They were ready to play and gave a good effort for the full 40 minutes.

Spiff's Observations

- The win improved the Cougars to 14-6 and 4-2 in MWC play.

- I really believe that Ainge is the most important player on the team. When he scores, BYU is tough to beat. In their last five losses, he has scored just 21 points. In the last five wins, he poured in 61.

- New Mexico really did not press or apply any pressure in the back court. After seeing BYU struggle with that against several teams this year, it is a wonder that every team does not employ that tactic.

- BYU hit another nine three pointers last night. That gives them 49 in the last five games. They are shooting 52-percent from the arc during that time.

- BYU has scored at least 70 points the last 12 games.

- The Cougars next road game is at Utah. I'm calling my shot right now – BYU 73 Utah 59.

- Fans are being encouraged to wear white to the Air Force game.


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