New Mexico is reaching new heights in Steve Alford’s third season as coach. Alford has certainly enjoyed Wyoming’s last two visits to The Pit.
The No. 12 Lobos look to win 10 straight conference games for the first time in 32 seasons Wednesday night when they try to hand the struggling Cowboys a sixth consecutive loss.
New Mexico (23-3, 9-2 Mountain West) completed a challenging week with a 68-65 overtime win at Utah on Saturday. The Lobos remained in sole possession of first place after earning the top spot with Wednesday’s 76-66 win at then-No. 23 UNLV.
The last time New Mexico won 10 straight in conference play was when it began 10-0 in Western Athletic Conference play in 1977-78. The Lobos started 0-2 in the MWC before this run.
“It’s already been a very special year,” Alford said. “How it finishes, I don’t know, but I know this group has been tremendous and we want what’s best for them because I see how hard they work every day. They give it everything they’ve got and I think we’ve been where we’ve gotten to because of how hard they work.”
Alford became the first coach in New Mexico history to beat Utah twice in Salt Lake City. The victory didn’t come easy, as the Lobos shot 36.4 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from the line.
“We can come into this environment and shoot 36 percent and win,” Alford said. “We didn’t shoot the foul shots well and we didn’t shoot very well, but we held in there and did enough to take the win in the end.”
Senior guard Roman Martinez put together his two best 3-point shooting efforts in MWC play, with a total of nine on the trip. Martinez matched a career high with five 3-pointers against the Utes, including a tie-breaking one with 1:26 left.
“We’re just real confident,” Martinez said. “We always respect our opponent, but I think we’re playing confident now and more calm than we used to be.”
Wyoming (9-16, 2-9) can’t be confident heading into Albuquerque. The Cowboys are 0-8 on the road and have not been competitive in their last two trips to The Pit, losing by an average of 37.0 points and trailing by an average of 18.5 at halftime.
Poor defense was Wyoming’s problem in Saturday’s 76-68 home loss to TCU, which shot 50.9 percent. The Cowboys allow a conference-high 75.4 points per game.
“I thought we did a better job executing offensively tonight than we did defensively,” coach Heath Schroyer said. “A lot of times defense is about working hard, but a lot of playing well defensively comes from experience - from understanding scouting reports and executing.”
Since leading scorer Afam Muojeke was lost for the season Jan. 20 with a knee injury, Wyoming won its first game before losing five straight. Freshman guard Desmar Jackson has stepped up to average 17.5 points in that span.
The Lobos are 5-0 in the regular season against the Cowboys under Alford, winning 70-68 on the road Jan. 16. A.J. Hardeman scored a career-high 18 points for New Mexico in a game that featured four ties and seven lead changes in the second half.