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Utah Utes basketball: Gritty overtime win by Utes

SHARE Utah Utes basketball: Gritty overtime win by Utes

LAS VEGAS — Well it finally happened Thursday night.

The Utah basketball team found a way to win a tight game, hanging on to defeat New Mexico 82-80 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.

With the victory, the Utes move on to play UNLV tonight at 10 p.m. in a rematch of their game six days earlier here, when the Rebels won 70-63.

Luke Nevill scored on a dunk shot off a feed by Luka Drca with 21 seconds left then blocked Darren Prentice's shot at the other end with eight seconds left. Lawrence Borha added a free throw with five seconds left and then J.R. Giddens missed a driving layup at the buzzer in a dizzying sequence.

After the final shot didn't fall, Utah coach Jim Boylen jumped into the arms of an assistant coach and the Utes celebrated a rare close victory.

"I guess that's why they call it March Madness," said Boylen.

"Obviously I'm proud of my team. We've been there before, we've been in these situations before and lost every way you can and we hadn't got a break and hadn't got a bounce."

The fact that the game ended as it did, wasn't surprising, considering that three of the last four Utah-UNM games have gone into overtime and the other was a one-point Lobo win.

Nevill led the Utes with 26 points and 8 rebounds, while Borha added 13 and Shaun Green 12. Giddens led the Lobos with 28 points and 17 rebounds.

In the overtime, the Utes took a quick three-point lead, but the Lobos came back to take the lead on a pair of free throws by J.R.

Giddens with 2:23 left. But Nevill gave the Utes the lead with a dunk at the 1:01, only to see the Lobos re-take the lead on Giddens' dunk with 30 seconds left.

Nevill made another dunk with 21 seconds left and then he came up big as Prentice drove to the basket.

"I saw him going to the basket and I knew it was going to be close and I might goaltend, but I knew I had to go for it," said Nevill.

In regulation, the Utes blew an 11-point second half lead and saw the Lobos cut the lead to one at 71-70. With 34 seconds left, Nevill made one of two free throws and the Lobos' Chad Toppert was fouled with 13 seconds left and made both free throws to tie the score at 72.

Utah had one more chance, but Luka Drca's pass to Nevill went out of bounds on the Ute baseline.

Many experts felt the Lobos needed to win this game to assure themselves a spot as an at-large team in the NCAA Tournament. Now they'll have to sweat it out over the weekend until the NCAA brackets are announced Sunday afternoon.

The Utes extended a three-point halftime edge to nine when Johnnie Bryant sank a 3-pointer from the left angle with 12:20 left to make it 58-49. When Nevill scored on a dunk, the Utes took their largest lead at 60-49.

Of course, the Utes couldn't stand success and the Lobos crept back into the game, cutting the lead to three at 63-60 with 5:35 left. Utah extended its lead back to eight at 70-62 on another Bryant 3-pointer, but got stuck there as the Lobos scored five straight to make it 70-67 with 2:44 left. Drca made one of two free throws to make it a four-point game.

However, Toppert sank a 3-pointer with 1:01 left to cut the lead to one at 71-70.

The Utes took a 40-37 halftime lead after it looked like they might dig themselves a hole they couldn't escape.

After Borha hit a 3-pointer in the opening minute, it looked like the Utes might avoid another of their patented slow starts of late.

But then the Lobos ran off 10 straight points, as Dairese Gary scored eight straight, including a pair of 3-pointers and Giddens followed with one in the lane to make it 10-3.

The lead got as high as nine, but the Utes hung in there behind the inside play of Nevill and a pair of 3-pointers by Tyler Kepkay from the left corner and trailed just 25-22 with 7:30 left.

The Lobos pushed the lead to seven at 32-25, but the Utes responded with six straight points on two Nevill inside shots and a layup off a Johnnie Bryant steal. They would have had the lead except for a lane violation on the front end of 1-and-1 made shot by Drca.

The Utes took the lead a couple of minutes later on a pair of Carlon Brown free throws after a 3-pointer by Shaun Green. They had a chance to extend the lead even further, but Brown missed an inside shot and a tip just before the buzzer.

The Lobos hit 57.1 percent from the field in the first half, but were outrebounded by the Utes 16-12 and had one more turnover.

GAME NOTES: Four players fouled out, Green and Kim Tillie for Utah and Dairese Gary and Daniel Ferris for New Mexico. ... Giddens was the only senior starter on either team on the floor as the Utes started two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, while the Lobos started two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior besides Giddens. ...

The Lobos won both games against the Utes this year. Before Thursday night, three of the last four games between the Utes and Lobos ended in overtime and the other was a 1-point win by the Lobos in Salt Lake last month. ... The Lobos came into the game 4-3 all-time against Utah in MWC and WAC tournament action, dating back to 1984. ... New Mexico's Giddens was named co-MWC Player of the Year, but was the only Lobo to make the all-MWC teams. ... Utah had two players, Nevill and Bryant, make the all-MWC second team.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com