Defensive effort carries UNM to 48-38 win

With its offense stalling in the first half, the UNM men's basketball team pumped up its defensive effort in the second half and blew open a tight game against visiting Wyoming in the final minutes of the game to claim a vital 48-38 Mountain West Conference victory Saturday afternoon before 15,140 at The Pit.

New Mexico (20-4, 6-2 MWC) moved into a three-way tie with UNLV and San Diego State after the Rebels defeated the Aztecs 65-63 in Las Vegas Saturday afternoon.

Against Wyoming (18-6, 4-4), the Lobos struggled in the first half hitting just 1-of-7 three pointers and turning the ball over nine times and trailed most of the half.

"Besides putting offense basketball back a couple decades, it was an old school Saturday and maybe we went back to the 40's when it came to offense," joked head coach Steve Alford in his opening comments. "I really thought it was two teams battling like crazy. I think you saw what happens when you have a week off. Both teams had a week off and we were a little stagnant offensively, but both teams really made it hard on one another to get good looks."

The Cowboys were buoyed by shooting guards Francisco Cruz and Luke Martinez in the first half as the duo combined to scored 18 of Wyoming's 23 first half points, shooting a collective 6-of-11 while the entire Pokes squad shot just 8-of-27 in the first half. Cruz would finish with a game-high 14 points, Martinez with nine.

"We knew they were going to play a lot of minutes," said freshman Hugh Greenwood, who scored 8 points and pulled in seven rebounds. "They would eventually wear down. Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, Phillip McDonald, and Demetrius Walker did a really good job. We tired them out and that is the thing that gets us over the line is our depth. I think we outscored their bench four to nothing in a low-scoring game. We came off the bench and played really well. We played really good defense and we know that our bench is probably the most important thing going forward to future games."

UNM's bench outscored Wyoming 14-0 and outscored the Cowboys 18-12 in the paint. The Lobos were lead by Kendall Williams, who scored 10 points and had five assists. A.J. Hardeman added nine points and eight rebounds while Drew Gordon scored seven points and pulled in 13 rebounds despite being benched for most of the first half with foul trouble.

Alford said he and the coaches made offensive adjustments at halftime rather than defensive changes, Cruz and Martinez were mostly silenced in the second half and UNM was able to take the lead and control the game after that.

Alford said Wyoming's playing style, playing tough defense and reducing possessions, made the game the defensive, low-scoring affair it turned out to be.

"They do a very good job of playing their style and wanting to reduce possessions and I thought that they got us into their tempo," said Alford. "We tried to do a lot of different things and they went as far as not putting anyone on the line at free throws. They did a lot of good things to take away our transition game, but to be able to have a night where we shoot 39 percent and only score 48 points and win by 10 speaks volumes of the effort and how hard the guys are working."

Wyoming came out hot and took a 10-4 lead as Cruz hit two three-pointers and had a dunk within the first 3 minutes of the game. The Cowboys kept the lead as they forced UNM into bad shooting and turnovers in the early going. But Wyoming's own poor shooting kept them from grabbing the initiative and New Mexico eventually surged back.

Trailing 13-8, the Lobos went on an 11-3 run to take a 19-16 lead after a Jamal Fenton steal and lay-up with 3:28 left in the first half. But the Cowboys managed to finish the half on a 7-0 run to take a 23-19 halftime lead.

Sparked by its defensive effort, New Mexico opened the second half on a 10-2 run to take a 29-25 lead with 12:07 left in the game. The Cowboys opened the half with five turnovers and hitting just two field goals in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Wyoming would finish shooting 6-of-27 (22.2%) in the second half and 14-of-54 (25.9%) due to UNM's defensive effort.

Alford said he was very happy with his team's effort Saturday.

"I told the guys in the locker room that we have grown," said Alford. "We had a really bad second half against San Diego State, we didn't shoot the ball well, we didn't take care of the ball and we were stagnant offensively and then we shut it down and didn't guard. Then tonight, we couldn't get in the flow at all for 40 minutes offensively, and yet we found a way to win and that's growth and I hold the team that."

Inside The Lobos Top Stories