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One of the knocks on the University of New Mexico Lobo men’s basketball team this season has been its defense.
But it’s hard to complain about the team’s defense the last two games.
Following up on a huge defensive performance Saturday night in a win over San Diego State, the Lobos came up big once again, this time in their victory over the Utah State Aggies.
The Aggies, or Utags, as they’re better known, managed a pedestrian 37.9 percent shooting average from the floor Tuesday night as the Lobos topped them 67-58 at The Pit.
That came just two nights after the Lobos held San Diego State’s Aztecs to just 44 points in their contest, also in Albuquerque, which allowed UNM to pull even with the Aztecs for the lead in the Mountain West standings.
UNM needed the big defensive showing, though, as it had a relatively pedestrian night on the other end. UNM managed only 26 points in the opening half — the Lobos actually trailed at the break — and shot just 39.3 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes itself.
Utah State kept it close most of the way Tuesday. Kyle Davis dropped in a layup at the 6:54 mark of the second half to give the Utags a 52-50 edge, but UNM’s Cullen Neal drained a 3-pointer about 20 seconds later to put the Lobos up for good.
Former Hilltopper Alex Kirk said the Utags kept the Lobos on their toes throughout, but it was just something they had to play through.
“We’ve been in that spot before, they’re a tough team and they were hitting shots and we weren’t,” Kirk said. “We were a little lackadaisical, but then we put ourselves in a position and we were able to make a run when they got a little tired and we were able to capitalize on it pretty well.”
Kirk, who started off the season like gangbusters but has had to deal with injury and a few off games during the conference season, had a strong showing against Utah State. Kirk dropped in 13 points — second-best on the team after Cameron Bairstow’s 14 — and grabbed 12 rebounds.
With the win, the Lobos (22-5 overall, 13-2 in MW play) have clinched no worse than a No. 2 seed for the conference tournament, which starts March 12.
The Lobos have just three games left on their regular season schedule and just one more home game, that set for March 5 against Air Force.