SALT LAKE CITY — It's been more than a month since the Utah Utes won back-to-back games.
A seven-game skid prevented such opportunities. That, however, came to an end Saturday with a 68-51 win at Wyoming. Now comes New Mexico and a chance to experience the thrill of victory in consecutive contests.
The Utes (8-10, 1-3) and Lobos (13-5, 1-2) tangle tonight in the Huntsman Center.
"When you play New Mexico, you always worry about their level of execution. I think they're a very good running team," Utah coach Jim Boylen said while also noting concerns about the Lobos' physicality. "I think Steve (Alford) is one of the better coaches in the country and he gets his team to execute and play with force. They'll be a big challenge for us."
Point guard Dairese Gary headlines a New Mexico squad that is adjusting to the arrival of UCLA transfer Drew Gordon, who is averaging 19 points and 15 rebounds in two games as a starter. The Lobos, though, are off to a sluggish start in Mountain West Conference play — losing to Wyoming and San Diego State, but prevailing against Colorado State.
"I don't think you can judge them by their record in the league," Boylen said. "I think you have to judge them by their body of work, and they've got a good team."
Sound familiar? Boylen has similar thoughts about his own team. The Utes have remained pretty confident despite the turbulence of the program's longest losing streak since the 1949-50 season.
"This team has not gone into any games thinking we weren't going to win and they've kept that edge," Boylen said. "They've been resilient that way. What I hope is that we can get better at the things that we're still not doing at a championship level."
Among the shortcomings, Boylen noted, are transition defense and execution down the stretch. Continuing to rebound well is another point of emphasis. Utah outrebounded Wyoming 47-29. All nine Utes who saw action pulled down at least one. Forward Will Clyburn topped the team with 12 rebounds. Center David Foster continued his improved play with 11 boards. He now has 23 rebounds and eight blocks over the past two games.
"More than anything it's given me more confidence in my game," said Foster, who acknowledged that he struggled earlier in the season.
The reigning MWC Defensive Player of the Year, who has battled through some knee pain, has worked hard in practice and put in extra time to turn things around.
"It's getting there," Foster said. "I can't look past the fact that I need to keep improving."
It's a team thing, as well. Foster added that the recent slide was disappointing and not discouraging. The Utes persevered by working through it.
"We know as a team that we can win, we can play the game of basketball and compete with people," Foster said.
One win, though, isn't enough to fix everything — but it certainly brightened the situation.
"The atmosphere is a lot better," Clyburn said. "I'm not going to say we're satisfied. We're just going to keep playing, keep trying to improve and get better."
Boylen can relate. He's a firm believer in a one-game-at-a-time approach and just preparing his team to get better.
"Obviously we prepare for our opponent, too, but what I hope is we continue to play for each other and together — just get better at the things we don't do as well as we should," Boylen said. "If that happens, I think the wins come."
GAME NOTES: Foster leads the MWC with 2.9 blocks per game. … Gary is just two assists away from becoming the MWC's all-time assists leader, surpassing the record of 479 by San Diego State's Richie Williams (2006-09). … Utah is 52-7 at home against New Mexico. … The Utes lead the overall series 78-48, but the Lobos have won the last three meetings — including a 68-65 overtime win last year in Salt Lake City.
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New Mexico (13-5, 1-2) at Utah (8-10, 1-3)
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