By Arnie Stapleton
LAS VEGAS — Bring on BYU — again.
New Mexico earned a shot at beating BYU for a third time by outlasting Colorado State 67-61 in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday.
Drew Gordon had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds and Kendall Williams, the league's freshman of the year, led the Lobos (21-11) with 16 points.
No. 8 BYU is 29-1 against everybody else but 0-2 against New Mexico, which beat the Cougars 86-77 in Albuquerque and 82-64 last week in Provo. Strange as it sounds, it's the Lobos and not the Cougars who are the ones talking about how tough it is to beat a team three times in one season.
"Well, it's very difficult, especially when that team is BYU," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "A top 10 team in the country, and they have a player like (Jimmer) Fredette, their supporting cast that's so good. In the last couple years, they haven't lost too many games outside of us. I don't know if we know that secret. It's just kind of been fortunate it's happened that way."
The Lobos have beaten BYU with and without Davies. They blew out the Cougars last week in BYU's first game following the suspension of the sophomore center who accompanied his teammates to Las Vegas and watched their closer-than-expected 64-58 win over TCU in street clothes from the end of the bench Thursday.
Some Cougars were saying afterward they wanted another shot at the Lobos, and they got their wish.
"People say, 'What's the secret?' I don't know because we played differently both games," Alford said. "We won with a four-guard lineup in the second half of Game 1 and played two bigs in Game 2, and they were minus Davies for the first time.
"They've had time to work, get some things ironed out and play the way they want to play now with him gone. We know it's going to be a very difficult game for us."
Despite Andy Ogide's 25 points and 11 rebounds, the fourth-seeded Rams (19-12) will have to hope for an NIT bid now.
Colorado State, which hasn't won a conference tournament game since 2007, had just two field goals in the final 9:37, a jumper by Ogide with 7:49 left and his alley-oop dunk with 10 seconds left.
The Rams were without senior starting guard Adam Nigon, who sat out after spraining a toe at practice Wednesday. He had played in 83 straight games.
"That's unfortunate," Alford said. "You always hate seeing that out of seniors especially. Somebody that was a walk-on, he was a part of the first couple years that were obviously grinds and very, very difficult. Now he's been a part of turning around the program."
It wasn't just Nigon's 6.8 points a game that the Rams missed.
"Adam is kind of the heart and soul of our team," Colorado State coach Tim Miles said.
"We missed his intensity," Ogide said. "But I think we did a pretty good job of picking each other up and trying to compensate for that."
Miles said Nigon went down 10 minutes into practice and by the time the team went to the movies that night, it was apparent Nigon wasn't going to play.
"It's a travesty for the kid," Miles said, tearing up. "You can't ask for more out of anyone, more commitment, more effort. I just feel terrible for him."
The Rams trailed 36-29 at halftime but made a game of it with a 9-0 run that gave them a 47-46 lead midway through the second half.
It was tied at 59 with 2 minutes left when Dairese Gary's basket gave New Mexico the lead for good.28 comments on this story
The Rams came up empty their next three trips down court before Ogide's slam with 10 seconds remaining. By then, the Lobos had scored on Cameron Bairstow's high-arcing jumper and three free throws from Gordon.
"We made the winning plays down the stretch," Alford said. "We've been in a lot of tight games this year. I could just see the faces. We looked a little bit more confident, a little bit more comfortable that we were going to get over the hump and get this done."
A.J. Hardeman added 10 points, nine rebounds and a career-best four steals. He also tied his career high with three assists in helping the Lobos win their fourth straight.
"I don't know of anybody in this two-week stretch that's been more important than A.J.," Alford said.