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Lobos played huge as BYU's Mr. Clutch sat

PROVO — The Lobos clipped the Cougars 83-81 in a big-time showdown Saturday by doing what they have consistently done in winning 13 straight games during an impressive march through the Mountain West.

Steve Alford's squad simply made plays.

The Lobos bricked 11 free throws against BYU, plenty of them in crunch time.

Do that on the road and you're supposed to lose.

But Darington Hobson's block at the rim of a potential game-tying lay-in by Noah Hartsock with two seconds to play and huge 3-point shots by Roman Martinez, Phillip McDonald and Hobson proved money in a Lobo comeback in the final six minutes.

Nothing's bigger than making plays. The Lobos did it, BYU didn't.

The Cougars had just given up a meager lead when they caught Lobo Dairese Gary on a switch going for a steal when an open Hartsock got the ball, turned and raced off the block for what looked like an easy bucket after a timeout play with 8.6 seconds left in the game.

Hartsock looked like he'd dunk the ball and tie the game but chose to lay the ball in. That's when Hobson came streaking from the corner to rise up and swat the shot to A.J. Hardeman.

That play dashed BYU's efforts to stave off the Lobos without Jimmer Fredette (stomach issues) but a career performance by Michael Loyd (19 points) and sterling effort by freshman Tyler Haws (18 points).

"I knew it was my responsibility for backside help, to recover," said Hobson. "I thought about taking a charge but went up strong instead." While the crowd wanted a foul, Hobson's swipe was clean and ensured the Lobo victory.

"This is the biggest victory of my career," said Hobson. "I take my hat off to BYU, to a great crowd, to their coaches and players. They played a great game. This season isn't over, they've got the tournament and the NCAAs. This is the biggest win of my career, and I'm happy with it."

Hobson, who scored 20 points and had 14 rebounds, is considered, along with BYU's Jimmer Fredette, as frontrunners for league player of the year honors.

Hobson showed his wares in impressive style. But Fredette (6 points) played just 16 minutes and sat almost the entire second half with a stomach virus.

When he did play, he looked weak, out of it and ineffective.

On the bench in the first half, assistant Dave Rice asked Fredette to tell him when he felt OK. He never did. In the closing minutes of the loss, Fredette looked disappointed, frustrated that this monumental game was on and he could only watch from his perch on the bench.

While Loyd was sensational, making 8 of his 9 shots, all powder keg types provided for the Cougars, BYU could have used a healthy Fredette's 3-point stroke in the closing minutes when Jackson Emery made a bomb but his other attempt and two by Jonathan Tavernari and Haws strayed.

"I was looking forward to playing against Fredette in this game," said Hobson.

"Jimmer is a big time player and I'm sorry he was sick and for what happened today. I wish him the best of luck and he's a great player and I hope we can be co-player of the year. I hope voters look at what we've done throughout the whole season and not just this game because he deserves it as well."

The Lobos earned this championship and when it counted, they took on a hot Cougar team in a tough place to battle.

The Lobos outshot the Cougars 46 to 50 percent, out-boarded the Cougars 43-32 and made 10 treys to just six by the Cougars. While both teams played solid defense, the Cougar offense looked a little labored until Loyd electrified the arena with coast-to-coast dribble scores, a 3-pointer and spinning one-hander in the second half.

BYU lost this game because it allowed UNM too many second shots after misses. Chris Miles, who played just 12 minutes, had two rebounds and the bulk of BYU's board work came from Hartsock (6), Tavernari (6) and Emery (7).

BYU rebounds and hits one of those late threes and they have a chance.

"This would have been a hard loss on both sides," said Alford.

With both the Lobos and Cougars ranked in the Top 13, the loss should not kill either BYU's RPI or Monday's poll numbers, just like it wouldn't have rocked the Lobos' reputation had they lost in Provo.

What Saturday's win should do is get UNM a possible No. 3 seed in the Big Dance and send the Cougars to two final road games at Utah and TCU with a huge challenge after what was an emotional loss on a title stage.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com