Provo » The biggest game in Mountain West Conference regular-season basketball history produced perhaps the biggest loss in recent memory for the No. 13-ranked BYU Cougars.
It was the kind of gut-wrenching, unforgettable, never-goes-away loss sure to be remembered long after the New Mexico Lobos' probable MWC championship trophy is stored away.
The No. 10 Lobos took an 83-81 decision in front of 22,644 at a sold-out Marriott Center by making a couple more big plays in the final seconds to clinch at least a share of the conference title, all while BYU's best player, Jimmer Fredette watched from the bench for all but one minute of the second half due to a stomach illness.
"I thought that we competed really well, under the circumstances, and had our chances, had plenty of chances. It just didn't go our way," BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Lobos improved to 13-2 in league play, 27-3 overall, while the Cougars dropped to 11-3 and 26-4, their hopes of winning a fourth straight MWC title likely ended as well.
Trailing 83-81 with 8.6 seconds remaining after a timeout, the Cougars had a chance to possibly send it into overtime, but New Mexico's Darington Hobson blocked Cougar forward Noah Hartsock's layup attempt with two seconds remaining.
The Cougars wanted a foul on the play, but nothing was called. After rebounder Will Brown missed a pair of free throws with 0.9 seconds left on the clock, the Cougars inbounded the ball to Michael Loyd, but Hobson slapped it away, and the Lobos piled on each other near midcourt to celebrate their first win in Provo in 10 years.
"It would have been a very hard loss on both sides," said New Mexico coach Steve Alford. "It was very rewarding to get a win in the Marriott Center. We're conference champions now, and we're happy about that."
Hobson, Fredette's biggest competition for the MWC Player of the Year award, was sensational in scoring 20 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Dairese Gary added 23 points for the Lobos.
Loyd emerged as BYU's star, scoring 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting in relief of Fredette, who scored six points in the first half on 3-for-7 shooting, and played only the first minute of the second half before Rose took him out for good.
"At shootaround today, [Fredette] seemed fine," Rose said. "Somehow he just came down with some type of stomach virus. We don't know for sure. But he lost his energy. We tried to play him in the first half there, and you could see that he was having a hard time with his energy level. I don't know any more than that."
Asked if Fredette could have gone back in, Rose replied, "I felt like we needed more energy at that position, and Mike did a great job."
Loyd scored all 19 of his points in the second half, and his driving dunk with 52 seconds remaining tied the score at 80-80. The Cougars got Gary to miss a shot after that, but couldn't keep A.J. Hardeman off the offensive glass, and the Lobo sophomore's putback with 38 seconds left was the game's biggest basket.
The Lobos outrebounded the Cougars 43-32 to make up for poor free-throw shooting (9-for-20).
"We probably had three of four different times late in that game where we had stops," Rose said. "We got them to miss. [Offensive rebounding] is what they do. The problem is you have to stop them from doing it. And we weren't able to do it. But they make those same plays night in and night out, and that is how they have been really successful."
Rose said the final sequence in which Hartsock's shot was blocked called for Loyd to get a ball screen up top, and then decide whether to dump it inside, shoot, or find a shooter on the wing.
"We thought that instead of just trying to maybe fire up a shot and hope it goes in, we thought if we could get it to the rim we could maybe get a foul, get an and-one, or get a good shot," Rose said. "Noah went strong to the basket, just didn't convert."
Freshman Tyler Haws added 18 points for BYU, but missed a three-pointer with 18 seconds left that would have tied the score. Jackson Emery (11 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals) rebounded the miss and was fouled, but could make just one of two free throws.
With Saturday's win, New Mexico has clinched at least a share of the Mountain West Conference's regular-season title. A look at the MWC's past champs:
|2008-09||BYU, Utah, New Mexico||12-4|
|2005-06||San Diego State||13-3|
|2000-01||Utah, BYU, Wyoming||10-4|
In Short » The biggest regular-season basketball game in MWC history lives up to its billing and goes to No. 10 New Mexico late, 83-81
Key Moment » UNM's Darington Hobson blocks Noah Hartsock's potential game-tying layup attempt with two seconds left
Key Stat » New Mexico wins the rebounding battle, 43-32