2023 MWC Tournament: Lobos Push Past Wyoming To Advance To Quarterfinals

2023 MWC Tournament: Lobos Push Past Wyoming To Advance To Quarterfinals

Mountain West Basketball

2023 MWC Tournament: Lobos Push Past Wyoming To Advance To Quarterfinals


 Game Recap: New Mexico 87, Wyoming 76

House helps Lobos bring “The Pit West” label back to Vegas.

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New Mexico’s three-man offensive attack shows out against Wyoming, advances to quarterfinals. 

Las Vegas, NV–Rounding out Mountain West Conference action on the men’s side was a doozy. New Mexico versus Wyoming, both squads hitting the hardwood on day one of the festivities inside the Thomas and Mack Center. When both likely thought their respective seasons would have had very different endings with much higher seeds.

Still, the stage was set. The Lobos having not won a game inside “The Pit West” in three years. Nor have they advanced past the first round of the tournament since the 2019-2020 season. While Wyoming faithful thought their season would have turned out much different, but hoping for some underdog luck. All involved know this is March and anything is possible.

Things began as expected, Wyoming came out swinging. With a short bench but showing no fatigue from a grueling and long season. Ball movement and assists were in short supply (only 3 assists to 2 turnovers). Instead solid defense and 20 points on 5-10 shooting (including 3-4 from deep) and 7-9 from the free throw line from Hunter Maldonado led the way.

His first-half performance put the Cowboys ahead of New Mexico 38-35 going into the halftime break. But, even with a solid game plan that exploited the few weaknesses of their opponents. An offensive outburst by a dangerous Lobo squad out of the gate was too much to overcome.

The Lobos fixed a problem that had plagued them all season long. Slow starts out of half-time and lapses in defense. That wasn’t an issue for coach Pitino’s side as they were firing on all cylinders against the Cowboys. Outscoring Wyoming 52-38 in the second-half, including 40 points from their big 3. While making defensive stops on every other Cowboy on the floor without the last name Maldonado.

A 32-16 run with eight minutes left in the game gave Richard Pitino’s squad the spark they needed. While it also gave Wyoming’s hot hand some motivation of his own, not letting up en route to a career high. Though nearing the four minute mark, the Lobos took their biggest lead of the game, 76-61 and with very little going wrong for a surging New Mexico.

Hunter Maldonado fouled out with about a minute left, after a career high 36 points. Emotions ran high, as the redshirt senior was understandably upset as he was doing everything he could to help his team win on Wednesday night.

After that others like Xavier DuSell and Jeremiah Oden did their best to continue chasing the Lobos in hopes of a March Madness miracle, but Lobos held out.

With a high scoring trio of Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Morris Udeze being responsible for 74.7% (65/87) of the team’s final tally. Playing with energy and conviction missing during the month of February.

Securing the 87-76 win over, what New Mexico Head coach described as an extremely tough eleven seed. Another testament to just how strong of a conference the Mountain West has been this season.

Player Spotlights

New Mexico:  Sr. G Jaelen House

New Mexico’s three-headed attack makes player of the game/player spotlight selections so difficult. All year long, three Lobos usually score 15+ points a game or make the game winning shot. But all year long, Jaelen House has been the Lobo catalyst, on both sides of the ball.

Wednesday afternoon was no different for the senior floor general. His team high 28 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and three steals were just what the doctor ordered. Shooting 53.3% (8-15) from the floor and a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line, House led his team out of the desert and further towards the promise land.

“I don’t want to go home. I want to get to the tournament, and all we got to do is win. So that’s what we’re going to do.” said House in the postgame

Wyoming:  R-Sr. G Hunter Maldonado

Maldonado will go down as a Mountain West great after a storied career in Laramie. After putting his name in the conference record books this season as the Mountain West’s all-time leader in assists. His last trip to Las Vegas was surely going to be a show.

Even though his team didn’t come out with the win, Maldonado’s last hurrah was still a great cherry on top of a great collegiate career.

Contributing a career high 36 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists on 57.8% (11-19) from the floor, 66.6% (4-6) and 83.3% (10-12) from the free throw line. To say he left everything on the floor is an understatement.

Four Takeaways

  • Both teams quite frankly did not disappoint. New Mexico is a dark horse favorite for media and fans of the conference nationwide. They have the offensive fire power to make a run to the championship game. And a playing style made to build endurance, even if four wins in four games is a lot to ask.
  • While Wyoming honestly gave it all they had left in the tank. You couldn’t ask more of a team who has been decimated by injuries the way the Cowboys have. They never let up and their leaders led this team all the way to the final second of their season, that’s impressive. Definitely giving fans in Laramie all of the hope for years to come that they have the right man in charge of their program.
  • New Mexico has given fans in Albuquerque an emotional rollercoaster of a season this year. A massive turnaround of the program has helped fans pour into The Pit in droves this year. But multiple buzzer beater losses and unexpected losing skids have rattled the Lobo faithful. Who themselves have several past coaching tenures they’d love to get out of their mind sooner rather than later. Wednesday’s win over Wyoming really reignites a supportive fanbase during the best month of the year for college basketball fans, The Pit West is back.
  • Hunter Maldonado leaves the floor as one of the all-time great Cowboys and Mountain West players after his six year career in Laramie. Fans around the country may rejoice that the 6-7 swiss army knife floor general will no longer be suiting up for Wyoming going forward. But loves of the game will surely miss him. Maldonado had the ability to facilitate offense like a conductor of a symphony when he had targets like Drake Jefferies & Graham Ike last season to pass to. As well as take over a game as fans were reminded inside the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday against the Lobos. His potential as a future professional is high, something for everyone around the program to rejoice in after a hard fought loss.

Next Up:

The Lobos (22-10, 9-10) get the job done and advance, out of the first round for the first time in two years. A performance reminiscent of a Lobo squad nearly a decade earlier, momentum for tomorrow’s quarterfinal showdown with No. 3 seed Utah State is high.

“We were offensively phenomenal in the second half. When we are clicking like that, we are really hard to stop.” coach Pitino

New Mexico is looking for a revenge win over an Aggie team that sparked a four game losing streak for coach Pitino’s squad back in February. Tip-off is schedule for 9:30 PM MT/8:30 PM PT and can be viewed on CBS Sports Network.

While the Cowboys (9-22, 4-15) are heading home early. After an amazing effort during a really challenging season to persevere through. Fans can continue to wonder, what would have happened in one last season of Ike and  Maldonado healthy and on the floor could have been.

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.


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