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Top-5 Foes Have Found Lobos Tough To Beat at Home

By Mark Smith
Journal Staff Writer
    January 2, 1988. A date that forever lives in Lobo lore. It's the only time the University of New Mexico men's basketball team defeated a No. 1 team, beating Arizona 61-59.
    It's also the last time the Lobos defeated a top-5 nonconference opponent in the Pit.
    That could change on Wednesday night when fifth-ranked Wake Forest visits.
    While much has been made of the Lobos' soft schedule this season, it should be noted that Wake is the first top-5 nonconference opponent in University Arena since Dec. 14, 1991— that a 66-54 loss against No. 2 Arizona.
    There haven't been many teams ranked as highly as Wake around these parts. Just 10 in Pit history, and four of those were league foes.
    The most recent was No. 3 Utah, the Lobos taking a heart-stopping 77-74 victory in 1998. Who can forget UNM guard Royce Olney mugging the Utes' Andre Miller while referee Lonnie Dixon swallowed his whistle? Olney then drained a critical 3 with just more than a minute left.
    The crowd was a major factor in that one. It should be again Wednesday.
    UNM head coach Ritchie McKay says he's looking forward to the throng, and is grateful that Wake provided this opportunity.
    "There are a lot of things that need to fall in place to get a game against a team so highly ranked nationally," McKay says. "Number one, you have to have a program that's willing to play you. I've got a lot of respect for Wake Forest and coach (Skip) Prosser.
    "... Not many we've attempted to schedule are willing to go home and home."
    Lute Olson was. He lived to regret it.
    The Arizona head coach brought a trio of top-10 teams to the Pit, twice leaving with losses. The Lobos beat the seventh-ranked Wildcats 79-78 on Jan. 16, 1999, when Olson complained UNM received a few extra ticks on the clock before Damion Walker's game-winning layup.
    Olson soon after canceled the home-and-home series, but New Mexico got the last laugh the following season by shocking the second-ranked Wildcats 70-68 in Tucson.
    It was, however, that Jan. 2, 1988 game Lobos fans most treasure.
    New Mexico saw a 25-9 lead shrink to 61-59 and the undefeated Wildcats with possession. Sean Elliott appeared open for a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but UNM's Hunter Greene blocked the shot.
    In 1999, a blue-ribbon panel of writers and fans compiled the top-10 games in Pit history, and that one was ranked No. 1.
    In all, four games on that list came against teams ranked in the nation's top 5.
    The aforementioned Utah game was No. 3. The others:
  • Game No. 6— UNLV 80, UNM 73 (Jan. 17, 1976). The crowd was estimated between 22,000 and 24,000 for the game considered the loudest in Pit history.
  • Game No. 7— Georgetown 69, UNM 61 (Dec. 22, 1984). Down 44-27 at the half, the Lobos roared within 60-57 before Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams and David Wingate helped the top-ranked Hoyas escape.
        GRANGER HONORED: UNM senior Danny Granger was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Week. The 6-foot, 8-inch forward scored 17 of his game-high 20 points in the second half of the Lobos' 77-58 win against Tennessee.
        Granger also had four boards, three blocks, three steals and two assists.
        FAMILIAR FACES: Former Lobos Wayland White and Roland Hannah dropped by for Monday afternoon's practice.
        White, living in Albuquerque, played professionally in Australia and is trying to continue his playing career.
        Hannah, in town visiting White, has his degree and is working as a correction's officer for youths in his hometown of Providence, R.I.
        "I like working with kids," Hannah said. "My four years (at UNM) weren't a waste. I got something out of it. I got my degree."
        And fond memories?
        "Well," Hannah says with a laugh. "Except for going through that stuff with Dave Bliss."
        The athletic Hannah never received much playing time under former coach Bliss.
    Up next
        Wednesday: No. 5 Wake Forest at New Mexico, 7 p.m. Radio: KKOB-AM (770)
        FEB. 12, 1966: (4) UTEP 67, UNM 64 (OT)
        JAN. 18, 1968: (6) UNM 72, (5) Utah 66*
        DEC. 8, 1969: (3) NMSU 90, UNM 83
        JAN. 17, 1976: (4) UNLV 80, UNM 73
        DEC. 22, 1984: (1) Georgetown 69, UNM 61
        JAN. 2, 1988: UNM 61, (1) Arizona 59
        JAN. 9, 1988: UNM 85, (5) Wyoming 72*
        DEC. 14, 1991: (2) Arizona 66, UNM 54
        FEB. 1, 1998: (14) UNM 77, (3) Utah 74*
        FEB. 1, 1997: (13) UNM 87, (4) Utah 71*
    *-conference game