The Lobo crowd gave former head coaches Steve Alford and Craig Neal a true Pit welcome Tuesday night, as the now-Nevada coaching duo were introduced to thundering jeers from 12,000 strong.
"The Pit shouldn't be quiet," Alford said. "The Pit shouldn't be doing standing ovations or clapping for the opposing coach, no matter who it was. I was here for six years. I never saw that happen, so it's what makes The Pit very, very special."
In the end, it was Alford and Neal — University of New Mexico's previous men's basketball head coaches directly prior to the current Paul Weir era — who ended up on top. Nevada led the Wolf Pack to an 88-74 victory and handed UNM (17-11, 6-9) its third straight loss.
Alford and Neal were at the helm of UNM's program during its post-90s heyday, leading the Lobos to three Mountain West Conference tournament trophies and four NCAA tournament appearances from 2007-2017. Neal, now an assistant on Alford's staff, was fired shortly after the departure of former Athletic Director Paul Krebs in March 2017.
With Nevada (17-10, 10-5 MWC) fighting for second place amid a packed crowd atop the conference standings, Alford and Neal were able to complete the season sweep against UNM having already beaten the Lobos 96-74 at home on Jan. 25.
The resurgent Jalen Harris led Nevada's dynamic veteran backcourt with 28 points and nine rebounds, complemented by 15 and 14-point outings by Jazz Johnson and Lindsey Drew.
"Those three guards are electric," Weir said of Nevada's stellar upperclassmen trio.
UNM challenged Nevada's lead multiple times throughout the second half, but every Lobo run was matched by a momentum-swinging shot on the Wolf Pack's end.
On several occasions, UNM fought within single digits, particularly by way of big plays from guard Keith McGee, who finished with 11 points in his second start of the season in place of struggling lead scorer JaQuan Lyle.
Ultimately, it was an 8-0 Nevada run deep into the second half that put the Lobos away for good.
"They just came down and made some big shots," Weir said. "We were just chipping away and trying and working our way back. We were earning everything we got. Then they would just come down and make a talent play — just make a great play. And it was like, gosh, we just worked so hard and they can just come down and make a shot like that. It's impressive."
All told, UNM put forth a balanced effort with four players in double figures led by Lyle's 16 points.
When asked why Lyle was left on the bench to start the game for the first time all season, Weir said, "I'll leave that between me and him."
Now just 6-9 in conference play (and 4-9 overall since the start of 2020), UNM has officially been eliminated from contention for a top-five seed in next month's Mountain West Conference tournament, which would have granted the Lobos a first-round bye.
"It's been a crushing couple of months for a lot of different reasons, but all we can do right now is take the hand we have and just play it as best we can," Weir said.
Looking forward, UNM continues its conference slate at Boise State (17-10, 9-6) on Sunday, Feb. 23.
Joe Rull is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rulljoe