New Mexico proved why it is so tough to win on the road there in basketball specifically and the Mountain West in general.
Ask No. 4 San Diego State. Ask No. 9 BYU.
For the first time this season, BYU lost a halftime lead and allowed an opponent to win a game. The Cougars had a 13-point lead in the Pit, but an inspired Lobo team fought back and used that home-court advantage to win 86-77.
The Lobos went just 1-for-5 from beyond the arc in the first half in the famed Pit but came out the second half and buried 7-of-10 from the distance. That flurry, accomplished against a struggling BYU 2-3 zone defense, ended up being the difference in the game. Most of the damage came from two Lobo freshmen, Kendall Williams and Tony Snell. Both had 16 points.
Why did this happen?
The Cougars were unable to sustain hallmarks of their game — hot shooting, solid defense.
Key players, including normally stalwart Jackson Emery, struggled with his outside shot, going 2-for-8. With Jimmer Fredette good for 32 points, this was a game BYU needed more firepower to match what the energized Lobos threw at them.
One must credit UNM coach Steve Alford. He's got BYU's number, with wins in four of the two teams' last five meetings. BYU has been ranked for a good chunk of those losses.
The game also exposed one of BYU's major weakness: defending dribble-drive penetration out of a zone, and when it chooses to play man defense. Most of the damage by UNM's two freshmen came when senior guard Dariese Gary drove right at BYU's defense and kicked the ball out to wing players who simply stood stationary at the corners.
Excuses could be made for the Cougars. It's been a hectic week after the victory over San Diego State and all the hype surrounding Fredette's spectacular performances of late. Going on the road after all that emotion could be a setup for a loss like the one the Cougars swallowed in Albuquerque on Saturday.
But those are excuses. A No. 9-ranked basketball team is expected to keep winning. Voters may or may not recognize the venue and setting and give BYU some credit after the SDSU win and their subsequent trip on a plane and keep them in the Top 10. But if they don't, it is understandable.
BYU's defense held the Aztecs to just 58 points in the Marriott Center. UNM scored 54 points on BYU's defense in the second half alone in this game Saturday. That kind of defense doesn't get it done. The Lobos are expected to be hot at home, and they were when it counted.
So, you either credit Alford totally for his team's inspired play. Or you say BYU's defense was lacking, and so was Fredette's supporting cast on offense.
And it is still tough to win on the road in this game — no matter who you are.