Taking the best shot of the Wyoming Cowboys, who drained a season-high 12 3-pointers, UNM got a career-high 17 points from Cameron Bairstow and a double-double from sophomore point guard Hugh Greenwood, including a game winner with 7.4 seconds remaining for a 63-59 victory in front of 5,376 in Arena-Auditorium.
The win pushed UNM to 18-3 overall and 5-1 in Mountain West play. Maybe more important for the long-term was it quickly erased the memory of Saturday’s demoralizing 55-34 loss at San Diego State.
“Our guys have short memories,” UNM head coach Steve Alford said. “We haven’t been on the losing end very often. I knew we would respond, and I thought we got back to playing tough basketball the way we had been playing.”
As for his sophomore point guard closing out the game with the final four points to fend off a Wyoming (15-5, 5-1) rally?
“Hugh Greenwood has made big shot after big shot,” Alford said.
Greenwood had 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
For a player who told reporters he shouldered the responsibility as the point guard for the Lobos’ shot-clock era low 34-point performance on Saturday, confidence was surprisingly not an issue Wednesday night.
“It was a reality check for us at San Diego State,” Greenwood said. “But we did have that swagger (again).”
The Lobos’ game plan entering Laramie was simple: Take Wyoming’s two big men, especially Leonard Washington (14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds per game entering Wednesday), out of the game and force the poor-shooting Cowboys into attempting 3-pointers.
Wyoming had hit just 17-of-87 3-pointers (19.5 percent) in its four previous games, after all.
The game plan worked almost too well for the Lobos’ liking. While Bairstow, who got his fifth start of the season, was tremendous in holding Washington to zero points and two rebounds in the first half, the Cowboys looked more than happy to take the outside shot, sinking seven of their season-high 12 3-pointers in the first half. The last of those was a falling-down, fade-away trey by guard Riley Grabau at the first-half buzzer to give Wyoming a 28-27 lead.
“We thought — and maybe we were wrong because they made like 12 3s — we thought that their go-to was Washington first, and we thought (Larry Nance Jr.) could bother you, too,” Alford said. “Their guards have not scored. Their guards had not been a whole lot of their offense. … If we’d have got beat, I guess maybe I would have second-guessed myself tonight.”
While Wyoming did hit those dozen treys, the Cowboys were just 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from inside the arc.
Grabau’s third 3-pointer of the game with 23 seconds remaining tied the score at 59-59, setting up Greenwood’s heroics.
“I had Nance, the forward, guarding me,” Greenwood said. “Pick and roll … I think they must have gotten confused because I was wide open on the shot and fortunate enough to knock it down.”
Washington, who had played an impressive second half and finished with 11 points and six rebounds, helped the Lobos out on the ensuing inbounds play, throwing it the length of the floor over Nance’s outstretched hands and out of bounds, giving UNM the ball under their own basket with still 7.4 seconds remaining.
Greenwood was fouled as the Lobos tried to pass the ball in bounds, and he hit both free throws to ice the game.
“Greenwood goes down and makes a big shot, and that is the difference in a close game like this,” Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said. “If we had made the big shot, we would be celebrating right now.”
Senior point guard Derrious Gilmore, powered by five 3-pointers, led Wyoming with 15 points.
UNM had four players in double figures, led by Bairstow’s 17 and Greenwood’s 13. Kendall Williams added 12 points and four assists — and hit most of his shots as the Cowboys seemed poised to make a scoring run. Sophomore center Alex Kirk added 10 points and six rebounds, helping UNM out-rebound the Cowboys 53-23.
UNM had been out-rebounded 121-87 in its previous three games.
“The last 48 hours, it’s all we talked about,” Alford said. “Toughness and rebounding. I thought we passed both of those tests tonight.”
ROAD WARRIORS: Wednesday’s win in Laramie was the 43rd road win in Alford’s six seasons at UNM, matching the program’s road victory total for the 13 seasons prior to his arrival.
CAREER HIGHS: Bairstow established or matched career highs in points (17), minutes played (32) and free throws (10, making seven).
BOUNCE BACK FOR KIRK: The 7-footer from Los Alamos had scored just 15 points on 3-of-17 shooting in the Lobos’ previous three games. Wednesday, he was 5-of-10 for 10 points in 33 minutes.