Lobos tied with Utes in MWC, Cougars close behind

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

It was clear that title implications were on the line Tuesday night in The Pit.

After a March Madness-caliber night in New Mexico, the Lobos are now tied with the Utes atop the Mountain West Conference at 11-4 after a 77-71 win over Utah. The Utes are now on a two-game skid, and BYU (10-4) could see themselves among the leaders if it gets a win against Wyoming tonight.

“You have to give New Mexico credit, they have a good team, but I have a good team too,” said head coach Jim Boylen.

On Senior Night in The Pit, the Utes lost their cool with 10 minutes left and couldn’t regain it in time. The Lobos had already taken advantage of the 18,018 fans on hand to celebrate the last game before the famed stadium goes under renovations. The Lobos went on a 12-0 run that spanned nearly four minutes to take a 60-47 lead with less than 10 minutes in the game. During that stretch, the Utes had eight turnovers and only three baskets.

Utah chipped away at the lead in the final five minutes of the half, with the brunt of the scoring coming from Tyler Kepkay, who scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half, including several that came on layups with New Mexico holding a comfortable lead. The closest the Utes came to catching the Lobos was 66-61 with two minutes left, after a Kepkay layup and one. Kepkay missed a chance to cut it to four less than a minute later, and New Mexico ran away with the game from there.

“I thought we battled very hard,” Boylen said. “They made some 3s down the stretch, but we beefed up our pressure on defense and had some success.”

In their final home games, seniors Tony Dandridge, Daniel Faris and Chad Toppert left it all out on the floor. They fed the crowd, the crowd fed them and they were instrumental in the win.

Dandridge was the Lobos’ main scoring threat, scoring a career-high 29 points, blowing off the fact that Lawrence Borha, one of the best defenders in the conference, was guarding him.

Faris fed off of the crowd’s energy and frustrated Luke Nevill into two fouls, which sent him to the bench with just under four minutes left in the game. Nevill’s 16-point, 10-rebound game was not enough, particularly in the second half, in which he only scored one field goal and two free throws.

Toppert kept New Mexico in the game for the first half, taking the lead twice with two 3-pointers. Late in the second, he knocked down clutch free throws, helping extend the Lobos’ lead, and finished the game with 12 points.

Nevill fouled out of the game for the first time this season after Faris pestered him all night.

Wyoming could become Utah’s greatest ally down the stretch as it hosts BYU on Wednesday before taking on New Mexico in the regular-season finale. The Utes will have to beat TCU on Saturday in their own Senior Night if they want to control their own destiny and a chance to win their first conference title in four years.

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Lennie Mahler

Luke Nevill scored 16 points in New Mexico Tuesday night despite fouling out of the game with four minutes left. Utah lost 77-71.