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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Men's Basketball: Lobos closing in on MWC

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By Aaron Sweet / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Deshawn Delaney jumps to block a shot by Charles Hankerson Jr. of the Wyoming Cowboys during the game at the Pit Wednesday. New Mexico defeated Wyoming in overtime 66-61 to improve to 18-4 overall and 9-1 in the Mountain West Conference.

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Based on Wednesday’s results, the Mountain West Conference men’s basketball regular-season title race looks like it will come down to two teams — San Diego State and New Mexico.

The Aztecs, ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 this week, and the Lobos hold the top two spots, while every other conference team exited Wednesday’s action with at least three losses.

UNM (18-4 overall) sits second in the league’s standings after winning nine of its 10 conference games, but the Lobos remain a half-game behind an SDSU squad (20-1, 9-0 MW) that has won its last 19 games.

The two have yet to see each other this season, nor will they until Feb. 22 at The Pit. The second meeting takes place on March 8, the regular-season finale — four days before the Mountain West Basketball Tournament begins.

“I made the comment last week that this journey for the championship is 1,000 miles and it starts with a single step,” head coach Craig Neal said. “And then it becomes step by step, so our next step is Boise (on Feb. 12).”

The Lobos solidified their second-place standing, at least for the time being, with Wednesday night’s 66-61 overtime victory over Wyoming. They carry a two-game lead on third-place Nevada after the Wolf Pack’s 83-75 loss at Utah State.

SDSU, meanwhile, demonstrated how difficult it is to win MW road games. The Aztecs came back from a 14-point deficit in the second half to edge Boise State 67-65 in Idaho.

The two MW leaders have unblemished 5-0 records in road games to this point. The nine other conference teams combined for 12-32 records when not playing on their respective home floors.

Most games within the conference have been closely contested as well. Almost every team ranged between plus-8.9 to minus-4.4 in scoring margin. Only San Jose State has a scoring margin in the double digits (plus-15.8). UNM ranks second on that list at plus-7.8.

As long as the Lobos have held a halftime lead, they have won. The Lobos won all 16 games they have played when they have held a lead heading into the break. They led Wyoming by one point, 28-27.

“Coach wrote on the whiteboard at the end of the game ‘One point is a blowout,’” guard Hugh Greenwood said. “We’ll take a win.

We’ll take a win any time. That’s not like tournament play overseas where it comes down to percentages sometimes. It’s just getting wins.”

Nevada travels to San Diego State this weekend, while UNM has a bye. With the 11-team schedule, one team must take a break from conference action from the midweek and weekend schedule of games while the other 10 play.

“I’m glad the bye week’s coming at a good time,” Neal said. “I think we’ve got a few tired guys.”