Game Recap: UNLV 84, No. 21 UNM 77
Lobos can’t pull out last second miracle against UNLV.
No. 21 New Mexico fall for the second time this week. This time at home to UNLV in front of a sell out crowd.
ALBUQUERQUE, NM–University Arena or better and more favorably referred to as the Pit hosted it’s first official sell out game of the season. A whopping 15,424 screaming Lobo fans, the most in any game since 2009 is daunting for any visiting team.
It was the perfect environment for a top-25 ranked Lobo team hosting longtime Mountain West rivals UNLV. The perfect environment for the perfect game, at least for the visiting Runnin’ Rebels.
New Mexico used their ruckus home court advantage perfectly in the opening ten minutes of play. Starting out strong with an 8-0 run, continued with their largest lead of the half 26-14 but nearly wiped away. As foul trouble for the Lobos gave UNLV the opportunity to fight back to just a 2-point deficit with about two minutes left to play in the first-half.
UNLV went into the locker room at halftime down by five to a top-25 ranked New Mexico squad. It likely felt like the early 2010s for everyone in attendance.
Though in similar fashion to the past few Lobo games, second-half defense took a step back and the Runnin’ Rebels took three steps forward. With a 9-0 run out of halftime, the visitors took the 47-43 lead. UNLV never trailed again and were able to hold off Lobo advances that shrunk their lead to two (69-67) and then one point (72-71) in the closing minutes of the game.
There were some great plays on both sides, including a defensive stop by Josiah Allick in the post and kick out to Morris Udeze in transition for a two handed slam on the other end. Followed by a foul drawn by Jamal Mashburn Jr. beyond the arc and the chance at three free throws and the chance to bring the game to just one possession with about twenty seconds left.
Plenty of time for the Lobos second last second upset in a weeks time. But Mashburn Jr. coudln’t capitalize and missed two of his three free ones. There were chances but alas, UNLV’s second-half performance was just to good to overcome (shooting 55.6% during that time). And Kevin Kruger’s second win over a No. 21 ranked opponent this season was obtained.
It was also the Lobos’ first home loss of the season. After establishing a fortress of sorts prior to their trip to Laramie.
New Mexico: F Morris Udeze
To be quite honest Udeze didn’t exactly look ready for UNLV’s defense in the beginning minutes of the game. With an unfelt presence down low and missed opportunities, it felt as though Jaelen House was the only Lobo ready to contribute in the box score.
Even though the 6-8 big man provided a quality 9 points & 5 rebounds in the first half. It was the second twenty minutes of action where Udeze did most of his damage. Posting 13 points & grabbing 8 rebounds on 4-5 shooting from the floor and 5-7 free-throw opportunities. Including this monster poster below, one of many slam dunks in this one.
— Lobo Basketball (@UNMLoboMBB) January 8, 2023
Udeze’s double-double performance (22 points & 13 rebounds) also included 3 steals, 2 assists & 1 blocked shot. In a half that saw Mashburn Jr. taking tough and contested shots as well as House neutralized (0 points, 2 assists & 3 turnovers), the Houstonian big man kept things attainable.
UNLV: G Elijah Harkless
Like Udeze, Harkless just showed out. And also like Udeze he did most of his showing out in the second half. With a whopping 21 of his game high 25 points coming after halftime. The 6-3 guard found himself doing it all on Saturday.
Guarding the post, distributing the ball and scoring at will. Aside from his season high in scoring, Harkless also managed to grab 6 boards, 5 assists and shoot a perfect 7-7 from the charity stripe. There isn’t great video footage in this highlight tweet below but his movement through defenders was on full display against New Mexico.
— UNLV Men's Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) January 8, 2023
- The Lobos lost this one defensively and at the free-throw line. New Mexico’s second-half defensive performances have become subpar as of late. A 2-2 record after going undefeated through their first fourteen games is a testament to that statement. As coach Pitino’s squad has either been taken to the wire or lost second-half leads in each of their last three contests.
- They also went up against a top-tier national defense on a night where shooting wasn’t perfect from the field. It’s a tough pill to swallow but this loss is just another testament to how much stronger the whole conference has gotten. With plenty of conference play left to go, the season isn’t over. Remember what Lobo basketball felt like this time last year. Yes, the team has fizzled out of sorts after a 14-0 run, it happens.
- UNLV got the job done. They came into one of the most hostile environments in all of college basketball and left with a win. A much needed win after a 0-2 start in conference play. But, once again a testament to how deep this conference really is this season. As well as the job Kevin Kruger has done turning this UNLV program around in just year two.
- Harkless showed up big in the second half and everyone else did their job excellently. It’s hard to point to a UNLV player and point out a bad overall performance. Whether it was Muoka’s interior defense on the Lobo’s bigs in the first half while staying an offensive option with interior lobs. Or others like Rodriguez, Gilbert and McCabe playing well on both sides of the ball.
- Lastly, both programs are back. And that is what should matter to both fan bases and fans of the conference as a whole.
Breaks are still in short supply for New Mexico. As they take Sunday to rest but get ready to host Summit League favorites and former tournament darlings Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles are looking to return to the NCAA tournament through what appears to be a loaded top-half of the Summit league.
New Mexico’s matchup against the Golden Eagles is set to tip-off at 7:00 PM MST/8:00 PM CT on the Mountain West Network.
While the Runnin’ Rebels head back to Las Vegas to host 2nd place Boise State inside the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday. For a mid-week clash of two of the hottest teams in the conference.
That game will tip off at 7:00 PM PT and will air on CBS Sports Network.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.