The Lobos' devoted fan following was in full force Wednesday night, with over six thousand UNM faithful making the trip to Vegas and once again turning the Thomas & Mack Center into "The Pit West" with their raucous noise.
"We didn't talk about the crowd (before the game)," said Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt. "I will tell you this. I felt like I was in The Pit and I was really disappointed."
Shyatt's disappointment was likely with Cowboy fans not his team, which played its way back into the game after a poor first half.
The Lobos led 34-24 at halftime and looked to be on their way to a high-scoring win. But the Cowboys were able to slow the game down in the second half, putting the Lobos' shooting in a deep freeze to claw back into the game.
UNM went 11 and a half minutes without a field goal and Wyoming cut the Lobos advantage during that time, reducing the lead to 36-33 with 14:50 left in the game and holding the Lobos in that limbo until UNM made a 6-0 run fueled by a Cameron Bairstow's jumper and free throw and capped by a trio of Tony Snell made free throws with 8:41 left in the game.
The Lobos then clamped down defensively, allowing only six points by the Cowboys the rest of the way to earn the win.
"I thought our guys were terrific tonight," said UNM head coach Steve Alford. " We really guarded the way we've been guarding all year. I think we made things hard on them. It became a very physical game, which our guys have proven they don't mind physicality as part of the game. I just thought we had a lot of good play."
The Lobos shot 44.4% (12 of 27) in the first half and hit 6 of 7 free throws in the first half to build their 10-point half time lead. But UNM was held to just 5 of 15 (33.3%) shooting in the second half on the way to finishing with 40.5% shooting (17- of 42) for the game.
But New Mexico did a number on Wyoming on the defensive end, allowing 32% shooting across the board – 8 of 25 in the first half and 8 of 25 in the second half for a total of 16 of 50 – with a paltry 6 of 23 (26%) performance from 3-point range.
UNM really excelled in the second half on the free throw line, shooting 22 freebies nad converting 15 for a 68% rate.
"We've emphasized that since day one," said Snell of the team's defense. "The offense is always going to be there. If you can't never defend a team, you won't win games."
Snell scored a game high 15 points on 4 of 11 shooting and going 5 of 6 at the line. Cameron Bairstow added 12 of 14 points in the second half and also led UNM in rebounds with 8 boards.
The Lobos got scoring from all eight players who played.
Wyoming was paced by Larry Nance, Jr. and Derrious Gilmore, who each scored 14 points. Josh Adams added 12 points. Forward Leonard Washington, who played with an injured back, scored just six points on 3 of 7 shooting and had six rebounds before fouling out.
New Mexico improves to 27-5 and faces the winner of the late San Diego St.-Boise St. game in the semifinals Friday at 7 pm MT.
Wyoming finishes the tournament with a 19-13 record, hoping for an invitation to a second or third-tier post-season tournament.