No. 14 Lobos top Cowboys, claim MWC Title

The New Mexico Lobos did not have an easy time of claiming their share of the Mountain West Conference regular season title on Saturday – the gritty, gutsy Wyoming Cowboys made sure of that. But as they've done all season, the Lobos did exactly what was needed, out doing the visiting Cowboys down the stretch to defeat Wyoming 53-42 before a sold out crowd at The Pit on Senior Day.

The win, combined with a loss by second place Colorado State at Boise State Saturday night give the Lobos the outright MWC regular season title with two games remaining in the season. Along with the title, rings and commemorative t-shirts and hats UNM players and coaches got Saturday afternoon comes the No. 1 seed at the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev. starting Wed. March 12. New Mexico now stands at 25-4, 12-2 in the MWC.

The win did not come easily as Wyoming (18-22, 4-11) played tough defense and slow down offense, turning the game into a slugfest from the get-go. But UNM got another big game from big men Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow and a lift from the 15.141 in The Pit to outdistance the Cowboys in the game's final nine minutes.

Asked about his team's "ugly" win, UNM coach Steve Alford was succinct.

"It's never an ugly win," he said in the post-game press conference, net slung around his neck and a smile on his face. "The play may be ugly, but the win is always beautiful."

Kirk scored a game-high 15 points and nine rebounds while Bairstow added 14 points and nine rebounds. No other Lobo cored in double figures but junior Kendall Williams added seven points and six assists and the UNM defense held Wyoming to just 28% shooting for the game, 16 of 57 overall and 7 of 24 (29%) on three pointers.

New Mexico vastly outshot the Cowboys on free throws as well, making 21 of 27 (77%) while Wyoming made just 3 of 7 (28%) freebies.

"I felt like I was watching the movie ‘Hoosiers' with no shot clock with the game being at that tempo, but that's what they (Wyoming) do," said Alford. "We've seen all kinds of different styles this season and that's what's so special about this team is that they've been able to find ways to win."

The Lobos came out playing fast tempo basketball and took a 5-0 lead early but could have extended the lead much more without a few misses. Wyoming took advantage and surged back after finding its shooting touch, tying the game 5-5 with 14:46 left in the first half on a Larry Nance, Jr. jumper.

Wyoming would take its only lead of the game six minutes later, 13-12, on a Riley Grabau three-pointer. But Cleveland "Pancake" Thomas hit a pair of free throws three minutes later to get the lead back at 14-13. The Lobos increased the lead to 21-16 on a made free throw by Hugh Greenwood with just over two minutes left in the half.
But Wyoming responded with a three pointer by Derrious Gilmore on the next possession to cut the UNM lead to 21-19.

Tony Snell hit a jumper on the way back to increase the Lobos lead then Williams poked the ball away from Gilmore on the final play of the half, then streaked in with the steal for a slam dunk to give New Mexico a 25-19 halftime lead.

The two teams battled for the first 10 minutes of the second half and Wyoming cut the Lobo lead to 36-33 with 10:39. But UNM responded with a 10-1 run punctuated by a Tony Snell trey followed by a Williams jumper that gave the Lobos a 46-34 lead with 4:21 left in the game.

Grabau was the only Cowboy to finish in double figures, with 14 points. Nance, Jr. led all players.

The Cowboys cut the lead back to nine twice in the final minutes but got no closer.

Lobos senior Chad Adams, who did not score but pulled down two rebounds and was stellar on defense in his 11 minutes of play Saturday said the game was "a typical game for (the Lobos.)"

"We come out and we like to throw punches, if you know what I mean," he said. "We like to battle and this year we have come out with a W. I wouldn't say it is much of a change."

Fellow senior Fenton, who scored two points, added two rebounds and had two assists against Wyoming said the "the sky's the limit" for the Lobos as they head into the post-season.

"My freshman year, we went 30-5 - that was a pretty good team," said Fenton. "I think this team, as a senior, we have better chemistry than that team my freshman year. So I think we'll do well and go far and deep in the (NCAA) tournament."

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