In its homestretch run in the Mountain West Conference, the BYU basketball team could easily peer forward and see league-leading Utah a game closer within reach, or glance over its shoulder and see Wyoming dropping a game behind the Cougars.
But BYU coach Steve Cleveland would just as soon have his team focus on its own path and upcoming opponents New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado State. And it's obvious that the Cougars' path continues on not only through the MWC tournament in Las Vegas in two weeks but an ever-more-likely invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Cleveland knows that a strong finish solidifies postseason positioning and provides momentum. Watching the rest of the field is when teams tend to trip up unexpectedly.
"We need to stay focused on BYU — I don't care what Utah is doing, I don't care what Wyoming is doing," he said, adding "whatever happens happens. We're just trying to get into the NCAA tournament."
Next up for BYU (19-7, 8-3 Mountain West) is New Mexico, with Monday night's game at The Pit in Albuquerque a regular-season finale for both teams. For the Cougars, it's their final road game; for the Lobos, their last home game.
BYU is coming off a 56-43 victory Saturday at Air Force. "That's the first step," said Cougar center Rafael Arajuo, who scored 31 points against the Falcons. "Now comes the next step, and with New Mexico winning . . . "
Yes, the Lobos (10-15, 4-8 MWC) will be primed to build upon Saturday's 76-69 upset of No. 22 Utah. The Pit is primed to be rocking as Lobo seniors — including scoring machine Ruben Douglas and injured guard Senque Carey — are honored.
The nation's leading scorer with a 28.9-point average, Douglas torched the Utes for 39 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Most of his damage came from the line, where he was 26-of-31. From the floor, he shot only 5-of-17 against Utah.
Carey suffered a spinal cord injury in late November, with doctors fearing possible paralysis. However, However, he has since regained use of his limbs and will provide an emotional presence for the Lobos Monday night.
BYU is alone in second place, a game behind Utah (9-2) and a game ahead of Wyoming (7-4). All three teams play three games — Monday, Thursday and Saturday — as the Mountain West schedule concludes Saturday.
Opting to bus from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque after Saturday afternoon's game, BYU found a long road trip get even longer. Expected to pull into Albuquerque at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday night after the 350-mile trip, the Cougars' bus encountered blizzards and poor visibility much of the way and didn't arrive until 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
NOTES: As a team, the Lobos went to the line 53 times against Utah, hitting 40 . . . BYU leads the series against New Mexico 63-47 and is 21-31all-time in Albuquerque . . . Douglas' 26-of-31 free throws Saturday against Utah were school and conference records . . . The Lobos are headed for their first sub-.500 season since 1982-83 . . . Araujo is the first Cougar to reach the 30-point plateau since Travis Hansen scored 30 last season at Pepperdine. The last 31-point outing for BYU came from Mark Bigelow last year against Arizona State.
BYU Cougars (19-7, 8-3 MWC)
Name Ht. Yr. PPG
F Mark Bigelow 6-7 Jr. 13.5
F Jared Jensen 6-9 So. 8.0
C Rafael Araujo 6-11 Jr. 17.7
G Travis Hansen 6-6 Sr. 16.1
G Kevin Woodberry 6-0 Jr. 5.9
New Mexico Lobos (10-15, 4-8 MWC)
Name Ht. Yr. PPG
G Ruben Douglas 6-5 Sr. 28.9
P David Chiotti 6-9 Fr. 3.7
G Mark Walters 6-2 Fr. 8.5
G Javin Tindall 5-11 Jr. 9.0
G Ryan Ashcraft 6-2 Jr. 3.5
Monday, 7 p.m. MST
The Pit (18,018), Albuquerque
TV: SportsWest — KSL, Ch. 5
Radio: KSL 1160-AM