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Utah Utes basketball: Lobo lore: Historic win in Salt Lake City for Alford

SALT LAKE CITY — Steve Alford made history Saturday night.

It wasn't easy. In fact, it took overtime to accomplish.

But when all was said and done, Alford left the Huntsman Center with the unique distinction of being New Mexico's first coach to ever beat Utah twice in Salt Lake City. He accomplished the feat with a hard-fought 68-65 decision — his second win on the hill in three years with the Lobos.

"I don't know. I've been fortunate," Alford said. "I've got some good kids."

Players, he explained, that have bought into his desire to change the demeanor and attitude at New Mexico.

"We've got no names on our back for that reason. It's about the front of the jersey," Alford said. "And I want them to always have pride playing in a Lobo uniform."

The message has been well received.

New Mexico (23-3) has now won nine straight games, including five consecutive Mountain West Conference victories on the road. They've tied a school record for most true road wins in a season with eight.

"We've been lucky. We've been fortunate," Alford said. "But our road record speaks for itself."

The Lobos, he added, are doing a lot of good things. On Saturday, though, they won despite shooting just 36.4 percent from the field.

"These guys just battled. I just couldn't be more pleased," Alford said. "Utah did a heckuva job of guarding us."

Even so, it wasn't enough to alter the outcome. New Mexico won the rebounding battle by a 45-36 margin, including a 16-6 advantage on the offensive end.

The league-leading Lobos (9-2 in conference play) dished out 15 assists. The last one came with 1:26 remaining in overtime. It resulted in a 3-pointer by Roman Martinez (off a pass from Darington Hobson) that broke a 62-62 tie and put New Mexico ahead for good. Hobson later hit two free throws and Dairese Gary added another to keep the Lobos in front.

Considering the youth of his team — just one senior and three freshmen — Alford was pleased with how they handled an environment where the Lobos are now just 7-52 overall.

The victory put Alford in a class of his own when it comes to beating Utah.

Two wins over the Utes in Utah is something that nine of his predecessors at New Mexico were unable to accomplish when given the opportunity. Those coming up short include Woody Clements (1-2), Bill Stockton (0-3), Bob Sweeney (0-4), Bob King (1-9), Norm Ellenberger (1-6), Gary Colson (1-7), Dave Bliss (1-10), Fran Fraschilla (0-3) and Ritchie McKay (0-5).

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com