They played in a venue where they hadn't won in nine years. They faced an opponent desperate for a victory to revive its fading NCAA tournament hopes. And their leading scorer, Will Clyburn, was out with a foot injury.
Maybe the adversity helped refocus the Utes because they delivered an inspired effort to remain within striking distance of New Mexico and then capitalized on some good fortune on their final possession. Guard Chris Hines fumbled the ball 35 feet from the rim with three seconds remaining but recovered enough to bank in a 25-footer at the buzzer, enabling Utah to escape with an improbable 62-60 victory.
"I kept my eye on the clock, so when I got the ball, I knew I had to get it up as soon as I could," Hines told the Salt Lake Tribune. "As soon as it left my fingertips, it felt good, but I had to ask the Lord for a little bit of help."
Even though Hines' shot only lifts Utah to 12-15 overall and 5-8 in the Mountain West, it capped a special night for him. Making just his second start of the season in place of the injured Clyburn, Hines scored a season-high 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting from 3-point range.
For the defending conference champion Lobos, the loss removed the last shred of hope of a late surge to get back into at-large contention. All New Mexico (17-10, 5-7) can do now is hope to find consistent production from others beside guard Dairese Gary and forward Drew Gordon in time for the conference tournament.