Had No. 25 New Mexico lost to Utah State Tuesday night after being down by eight points, Saturday night’s win over Mountain West leading San Diego State likely would have been for naught.
But the Lobos kicked it into another level in the final 10 minutes, rallying past the Aggies for a 67-58 win. That rally kept UNM in a first-place tie with the Aztecs, who crushed cellar-dweller San Jose State later Tuesday night.
Lobo head coach Craig Neal said his team dug deep to get that run going.
“I think that’s a reaction of fear, when you have fear you’re going to lose, and lose something you’ve worked the whole season for,” Neal said. “I think it comes from them having a sense of urgency.”
That urgency must remain high, especially considering the regular-season finale at SDSU will decide a conference title if both the Lobos and Aztecs win their next two games. UNM’s next game comes Sunday on the road at Nevada. The Lobos also have a home date against Air Force next week before the trip to Viejas Arena in San Diego.
The Utah State game proved UNM (22-5, 12-2 MW) is capable of flipping a switch and playing at a higher level, though that can potentially be dangerous when trying to play from behind.
“You don’t want to play like that at all, I’m not sure if that’s what it is,” center Alex Kirk said. “That’s a talented team right there. (Nevada is) 5-10 in the conference, but those kids can shoot the ball. They have bigs and they’re a talented team and we battled until we were able to get on the run.”
The Lobos did not need a rally to overcome Nevada in their previous meeting Feb. 15. UNM led the entire game, including a 24-point edge at halftime, in a 90-72 victory over the Wolf Pack. The Lobos produced their highest scoring total since a 97-point effort against Alabama-Birmingham, and that game went into double overtime.
That contest was a meeting between the top two scoring leaders at the time: UNM’s Cameron Bairstow and Deonte Burton. Bairstow finished with 29 points, while the Lobos kept Burton to only one first-half free throw — he had 12 for the game.
The Wolf Pack (13-15, 8-7 MW) had opened the conference schedule with a 7-2 record, but the loss to UNM was part of a five-game losing streak that dropped Nevada to sixth in the league standings. SJSU also got its first conference win over Nevada.
Nevada ended the skid with a 75-56 win over Air Force last Saturday.
Burton still ranks among the league’s top scorers, averaging 19.9 points per game, trailing only Bairstow’s 20.2 per game. The Lobos also have guard Kendall Williams at No. 3 on the scoring list at 17.1.
Kirk said he expects Nevada to change their game plan from the last game, but he said Burton will still need to be contained.
“We’ve got to stop him and then we’ve got to just stop their wings,” Kirk said. “They’re definitely going to try to throw some trap at me and Cam. We’ll just have to figure it out and see what they’re going to do.”