New Mexico used a victory in a place where it never wins to take over first place in the Mountain West Conference.
The No. 15 Lobos will likely need one in an even more difficult venue for them to stay at the top Saturday night when they visit Utah in search of a ninth straight win.
New Mexico (22-3, 8-2) won for the second time in 11 games at No. 23 UNLV with a 76-66 victory on Wednesday. The Lobos made 11 3-pointers and held on after a 16-point second-half lead was cut to two down the stretch.
Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez each scored 16 points to lead New Mexico, which improved to 7-2 on the road and avenged its most recent loss - 74-62 to the Rebels on Jan. 9.
“We’re playing really great basketball,” coach Steve Alford said. “We’ve been a great road team all year. This is the best environment we’ve played in all season long.”
While the victory in Las Vegas was a rare one for the Lobos, winning in Salt Lake City has been much more difficult. New Mexico has dropped 19 of its last 20 road games against Utah (11-12, 4-5), ending an 18-game skid at the Huntsman Center two years ago in Alford’s first season.
The Lobos are one-half game ahead of No. 17 Brigham Young and one game ahead of UNLV after ending the Rebels’ five-game win streak. Hobson had 13 rebounds as New Mexico dominated the glass with a 45-23 rebounding advantage.
“I thought we did a good job executing offensively,” Alford said. “We had a little run, but they had a great run in the first half and a great run in the second half and we withstood them both.”
Three starters logged at least 36 minutes with the conference lead on the line. Alford is concerned that fatigue could be a factor in the finale of this road trip.
“I didn’t use our bench the way I probably wanted to tonight, so we’ll have to really watch that going into Saturday,” he said.
The Lobos used a huge effort from their reserves in a 74-57 home win over Utah on Jan. 13. Three bench players combined for 20 points with Hobson struggling to score 14 on 3-of-10 shooting to go with a season-high six turnovers.
That game was closer than the final score indicated since the Lobos used two big runs to pull away. New Mexico closed the half with a 10-0 surge for a 35-24 lead and used a 13-1 run to make it 68-51 with 3:52 left.
The Utes ended a three-game skid with a 64-55 road win over TCU on Wednesday, limiting the Horned Frogs to 36.0 percent shooting.
“Our defense was as good as it has ever been,” coach Jim Boylen said. “We played like a team tonight, I’m really proud of my guys. It was a great team effort.”
Freshman Marshall Henderson returned from a one-game suspension for hitting a BYU player in the face in an 82-69 loss Jan. 30 and scored a season-high 24 points.