By Steve Guiremand
The Sports Xchange
LAS VEGAS -- Whoever coined the old adage about beauty being in the eye of the beholder has a fan in New Mexico coach Steve Alford.
Alford cringed when a reporter used the term "ugly" to describe the No. 15 ranked Lobos' 59-46 victory over Wyoming in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament on Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"I guess that's in the eyes of the beholder," Alford replied. "In March, when you win by 13 points, to me it's pretty."
So what if New Mexico (27-5) went a span of more than 12 minutes without a field goal? So what if the Lobos shot just 40.5 percent against a Wyoming (19-13) team that was seeded eighth out of nine teams in the tourney?
"We may not have shot the ball well," Alford said. "We've had a lot of games this year we haven't shot the ball well. (But) the key and identity to this basketball team ... has always been on the defensive end.
"We hold a team to eight field goals in both halves, where they score 22 in one half and 24 in the other. They shoot less than 35 percent. They get out-rebounded. We took care of the basketball, only turned the ball over nine times. We make more free throws (21) than our opponent attempted (13). That has been who we have been all year long."
Wyoming was 16 of 50 from the floor (32 percent) and made six of its 23 3-point tries. This just one night after the Cowboys shot 57.4 percent in a 85-81 play-in victory over Nevada.
"We got good looks at the rim," Cowboy guard Derrious Gilmore, who finished with 14 points, said. "Some shots we had to force up. Besides that, I think we executed as well as we possibly could. You have to give credit to New Mexico. They're a really good defensive team."
"We've emphasized (defense) from day one," New Mexico guard Tony Snell, who scored a game-high 15 points. "The offense is always going to be there. If you can't defend a team, you won't win games."
Forward Cameron Bairstow finished with 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds for New Mexico, which won despite going over 12 minutes without a field goal during one stretch from late in the first half until the 9:37 mark of the second half.
Forward Larry Nance Jr. and Gilmore each scored 14 points and Josh Adams added 12 for Wyoming, which lost its sixth straight to New Mexico and has dropped nine of the last 11 meetings with the Lobos.
Wyoming, which led the Mountain West in scoring defense (57.6), held New Mexico to just one field goal in the first 14:14 after halftime and trailed by six points, 48-42, after an Adams jumper with 7:46 to go.
But senior forward Leonard Washington, a third team all-Mountain West pick who ranked fourth in the conference in rebounding and led the Cowboys in scoring, fouled out right after that. New Mexico then went on a 11-2 run to put the game away.
Washington finished with six points, only the eighth time in 30 games this season he didn't reach double figures.
Snell, a third team all-Mountain West pick who scored only 15 points combined in the first two meetings with Wyoming, had 11 points in the first nine minutes, including a pair of 3-pointers, as New Mexico bolted out to a 25-15 lead. But the Cowboys rallied to cut the deficit to 29-23 on a 3-pointer by Adams with 3:15 remaining.
The Lobos closed out the half on a 5-1 run highlighted by a 3-pointer by guard Jamal Fenton to go into the locker room leading by double figures, 34-24, at halftime.
The Lobos will play the winner of Wednesday night's final quarterfinal contest between Boise State and San Diego State in the semifinals on Friday night.
NOTES: New Mexico guard Kendall Williams, named the conference's player of the year on Monday, finished with just six points on 1 of 4 shooting but was praised by Alford for his defense on Gilmore in the second half when the Cowboys guard scored three points. ... New Mexico entered the tournament as the top seed for only the second time in the league's 14-year history. The Mountain West regular-season champion has made it the tournament finals nine times in the last 13 years. The Lobos, San Diego State and UNLV are the only three current league members to have earned a Mountain West regular-season title and tournament crown in the same year. New Mexico did it in 2012.