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ALBUQUERQUE — It was a perfect Wyoming February outside — cold and snowy white — but inside the Lobos’ Pit the Cowboys’ gallant bid for a Mountain West upset also turned cold as the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team escaped with a gut-wrenching 66-61 overtime win.
Lobo head coach Craig Neal said after the game that it didn’t appear his players listened to him when he said, “This isn’t going to be a cakewalk. This is going to be one of the toughest games you play.”
And it was.
The Cowboys had the ball at the close of regulation and Larry Nance Jr. threw up a short jumper over Alex Kirk that failed to fall ending regulation in a 57-57 tie.
“We didn’t play as well as we were capable of playing, but they made it difficult on us,” said Neal. “Our guys hung in there and we made big free throws. We didn’t shoot the ball very well outside and Kendall (Williams) was having an off night. But he’s a clutch kid and he had some big free throws.”
The Lobos (18-4 overall, 9-1 in the Mountain West) took control of the overtime period quickly with a Cameron Bairstow dunk and packaged several critical Wyoming turnovers with some timely Williams’ free throws.
Nance Jr. tied the game at 59-59 at the free-throw line, but Wyoming could manage only two more points the rest of the way.
The Lobos got 23 points and 11 rebounds from Bairstow and the 7-foot Kirk added 15 points and 10 boards.
“Cam just worked his butt off and Alex was really good in the second half,” said Neal. “To his (Kirk’s) credit, he is getting back into the flow. He is very coachable and he listens.
“He was terrific in the second half. He made some finishes for us in the second half that were big for us in being able to come back,” Neal said.
Kendall Williams scored 13 points going 9 of 12 from the line, but was only 2 of 13 from the field and 0-for-6 from 3-point range.
He had no assists and four turnovers.
Hugh Greenwood had eight points, four boards and three assists. UNM got only five points off its bench, all from Cullen Neal.
Wyoming had four players in double figures with Riley Grabau the high Cowboy hitting 12 points going 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
The Lobos still trail the San Diego State Aztecs by a game at the top of the Mountain West standings.
The Lobos will be off for a week before traveling to Boise State Feb. 12.