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January 26, 2011The New Mexico Lobos had an easy time in beating TCU in the Pit Wednesday night, but 10 minutes after the game, the talk already was about playing BYU in the Pit Saturday night.
The Lobos ended a three-game losing streak, the first under coach Steve Alford, by beating the Horned Frogs 71-46. UNM shot well, handled the ball well, rebounded well and then started thinking about the Cougars.
BYU, which is ranked No. 9 this week, handed fourth-ranked San Diego State its first loss of the season in Provo, Utah, Wednesday night, 71-58. Now the Cougars are atop the standings in the Mountain West Conference.
UNM, meanwhile, avoiding dropping into the basement by beating TCU. New Mexico is 14-7 overall, 2-4 in the Mountain West. BYU is 20-1, 6-0.
If the Lobos had lost to last-place TCU, the Cougars would have been prohibitive favorites as the two teams strolled down the ramp on Saturday.
"This is a really good bounce-back game for us,'' said Alford. "There were a lot of positives.''
And New Mexico will have to be positive to have a chance against the Cougars.
"We know we're playing a big-time team. We know what we've got coming in Saturday,'' Alford continued. "We're still a hard team to beat in this building.''
The up-and-down season of junior Phillip McDonald was up Wednesday night. McDonald was 6-for-9 in 3-point shooting and finished with 20 points and six rebounds. Drew Gordon had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the last seven games.
"This was a confidence booster and I really needed that,'' said McDonald. "Every shot I took felt like it was going in. It feels good to win.''
"This was a big win for us,'' Gordon added. "It was a gut-check. It is going to be a good test of our skills on Saturday. It is a good chance to test where we are.''
Gordon is a junior transfer from UCLA who is a veteran of big games. But UNM starts two freshmen and uses four in every game. They are the ones who have to play with maturity.
"Our freshmen have taken a big role on this team. We have to tell them that they have to be strong.''
The Lobos have been disappointing this season, particularly with losses to Northern Iowa, Dayton and Wyoming. That could all be turned around quickly on Saturday afternoon and the Lobos realized that before they even made it to their locker room after beating TCU. Instantly, beating the Horned Frogs was history and playing BYU was all that mattered.