LAS VEGAS -- Wyoming gave New Mexico a scare.
But it wasn't anything that No. 15 New Mexico couldn't handle, as the Cowboys fell short of taking down the top-seeded Lobos once again.
No. 15 New Mexico (27-5, 13-3 MW) beat Wyoming (19-13, 4-12 MW) 59-46 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday.
The Lobos’ win advances the regular-season Mountain West champions to a Friday evening game against the winner of the Boise State and San Diego State matchup that took place later Wednesday evening. Results of that game were not available at press time.
The Cowboys’ loss sends the team back to Laramie with a 1-1 record in the conference tournament and six losses in its last seven games. Now, the team will wait to hear on its postseason fate.
Twice before, Wyoming had gone after New Mexico, the top team in one of the nation’s most-competitive conferences. Previous losses had come by four -- when Lobos’ guard Hugh Greenwood poured in four points in eight seconds in Laramie -- and 11 -- when the Cowboys were largely without senior forward Leonard Washington, who missed all but 10 minutes of the game due to an aggravated back injury.
Wednesday’s third meeting was perhaps the most thrilling. Wyoming trailed by as much as 11 in the first half and by 10 after a first-half that left a fuming UW head coach Larry Shyatt giving the referees an earful before walking to the locker room.
But the re-energized Cowboys clamped down early in the second half.
Wyoming sophomore forward Larry Nance Jr. scored to start and senior forward Leonard Washington stole a ball and scored a layup seconds later. Eventually, Wyoming whittled the Lobos’ lead to three with 14:50 left to play.
But the Lobos -- who didn’t hit a second-half field goal until the 9:37 mark --- cushioned their slim lead with free throws. And Wyoming found foul trouble.
“It’s always tough to be playing this caliber of a team with foul trouble,” Nance said. "But I think we did a fairly good job staying in the game. Those free throws are what hurt us [The Lobos made 21-of-29 free-throws compared to UW’s 8-of-13].
Washington (six points and six rebounds) and Nance (14 points and six rebounds) both had four fouls early. Still, Shyatt left them in the game, gambling on his pivotal big men.
Washington fouled out at the 7:21 mark, and the Lobos again had a 10-point lead with 3:30 left to play.
This time, it would last.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” Shyatt said. “Today was probably synonymous with many games we’ve played this year. They really didn’t care whether the team was 14th in the nation …. They played with a sense of urgency, with toughness.”
“All three games [against New Mexico], we were right there,” senior guard Derrious Gilmore, who scored 14 points, added. “We were a few possessions away from actually taking a lead and running away with the game.”