SAN DIEGO — It has ascended to the top of the Mountain — and the New Mexico men’s basketball team is ready to keep climbing.
On Wednesday, the Lobos made it six straight wins by spanking 13th-ranked San Diego State 77-67 here for sole possession of the Mountain West Conference lead.
UNM (21-4, 7-2) led almost the entire way in avenging one of its two league losses, and snapping a four-game losing streak to the Aztecs (20-5, 6-3).
On Saturday, the sizzling Lobos get a chance for redemption against the only other team to beat them in league play when they play host to 11th-ranked UNLV (22-5, 6-3).
“This is one of the biggest wins I’ve had in my basketball career,” said UNM sophomore guard Kendall Williams, who had 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting and hit 5-of-6 from 3-point range.
“Not only the win, but the atmosphere around it … tonight we have to enjoy it. We have to really soak it in and enjoy it. We’re on top of the league, but these guys (UNLV) really beat us up at their place. Now we get them at home. We did our job on the road — now we’ve got to get some payback.”
Led by Williams, senior post Drew Gordon (17 points, 17 rebounds) and back-up junior point guard Jamal Fenton (15 points, three assists), the Lobos built a 54-39 with just under 13 minutes reaming and got a series of clutch shots to maintain a double-digit advantage most of the second half.
When Gordon scored with 3:21 left, the Lobos led 70-59, and the advantage looked to be safe. But SDSU guard Chase Tapley finally buried a 3 — the Aztecs were 1-of-9 from behind the arc to that point — then scored on a nifty reverse layup to cut it 70-64. San Diego State got the ball back, but the Aztecs’ Tim Shelton missed a wide-open layup with 1:54 remaining, and Gordon fired the dagger with a 15-foot jumper with 1:20 remaining.
“I thought we took care of the ball, and for the most part we took good shots,” said UNM coach Steve Alford, whose bench outscored San Diego State’s 33-11. “I thought Kendall was terrific, I though Drew was terrfic and Jamal came off the bench and gave us a huge lift. We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game and we played that way. This team (UNM) has been impressive all year.”
Williams and Fenton each hit 3-pointers in an 8-0 run early in the game to give the Lobos an 11-7 lead, and they never trailed again. New Mexico got up by as much as 27-17 in the first half and led 36-32 at the break.
The Aztecs tied it 38-38 early in the second half, but UNM back-up guard Chad Adams sank a 3 and Williams hit back-to-back 3s to start a 13-0 burst.