Lobos knock out Wyoming, Utah State up next

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LAS VEGAS — Back in an environment dubbed the ‘The Pit West’ by broadcast announcers, the Lobos brought back not only their conference tournament nickname but their winning style too after taking down Wyoming, 87-76, Wednesday night.

“I think the offense in the second half was obviously phenomenal. We shot 58%, shared the ball a little bit certainly, and just found a way to get to the foul line, make winning plays,” Coach Richard Pitino said.

The Wyoming Cowboys didn’t go down without a fight, as most teams don’t during the month of March.

Senior guard Hunter Maldonado led the Cowboys in a commanding fashion. Maldonado put up 36 points, five rebounds, and three assists for the brown-and-gold before he fouled out with about a minute left in regulation.

“Hunter Maldanado’s one of the best players in my 11 years of going against. He had 36 points and I actually thought we played pretty decent defense on him,” Coach Pitino said.

New Mexico and Wyoming battled closely throughout the first half. The Cowboys clinched a three-point lead at halftime, 38-35, but the Lobos’ surged in the second half, especially Jaelen House.

House energetically led the team with 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals.

“More often than not, his [House] emotion and energy are going to end in a positive for a lot of this year when we’ve had him. We obviously dropped Air Force and Wyoming without him and that took us out of an at-large bid, but when he’s in there, we’re pretty good,” Coach Pitino said.

Three other Lobos finished in double-digits. Jamal Mashburn Jr. had a typical, consistent Mashburn Jr. performance of 22 points, six rebounds, and three assists. 

Morris Udeze finished with a double-double, racking up 15 points and 11 rebounds. Fellow big man Josiah Allick added 12 points and six rebounds. 

“I feel like that’s always the game plan,” Udeze said. “It’s my job to crash the boards and rebounding, and I leave it up to the guards to score.”

The Lobos’ surge in the second half was sparked by transition plays and a lot of House energy. New Mexico forced 11 turnovers on Wyoming, scoring 18 points from the Cowboys’ turnovers.

Pushing the ball and scoring in transition is another aspect of the second half that helped the Lobos build a larger lead. They scored 12 points off of fast breaks.

The Lobos went on multiple runs in the second half of the game. A 13-2 run near the nine-minute mark put New Mexico up 67-63.

Most of the points in this run came from Mashburn Jr. and House – and the sound of ‘The Pit West’ could be heard from everywhere during these plays.

KJ Jenkins contributed on this run too with a layup before taking a hard fall and being subbed out. Jenkins added four points to the board for the night. 

Javonté Johnson contributed six points and nine rebounds. Overall, the Lobos grabbed 40 rebounds, compared to the Cowboys’ 35.

New Mexico took their largest lead of the night around the four-minute mark, going up 71-76, after a Mashburn Jr. shot from deep.

No. 6 New Mexico will see No. 3 Utah State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament. They’ll play Thursday night at the Thomas and Mack Center. Tipoff is 9:30 p.m. MT on CBS Sports.