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Dick Harmon: New Mexico is the carrier of BYU's poison cup

Published: Wednesday, March 2 2011 10:40 p.m. MST

PROVO —

All it took to humble BYU as a No. 3 ranked team was New Mexico.

The Lobos came to the Marriott Center Wednesday and slapped around BYU good 82-64.

It was a painful end to a very emotional 24 hours for Dave Rose's Cougars, a shadow of their previous selves.

The Cougars came out against the Lobos in a daze as if in a fog. They pressed on shots like they were all life and death and cost a million bucks.

Gone was the confidence witnessed last Saturday in the win over then No. 4 San Diego State. It was like somebody turned on a faucet since that day and all BYU synergy leaked out of the tank.

And New Mexico turned into the Celtics.

The atmosphere in the Marriott Center, one of magic for 12 straight home games, turned weird, like somebody cast a spell on the guys in white jerseys.

It wasn't that suspended Brandon Davies wasn't on the floor. It was more like living the announcement of it for a day had become a month.

It was as if events of the last 24 hours extracted a toll: dimmed player spirit and confidence. A cycle of national reports screaming of disaster, tragedy, devastation and how big a blow it was to the team that it had lost Davies to an honor code violation? Well, became BYU's reality.

It was either that or post-San Diego State win fatigue. Again.

Life as the nation's No. 3 became a nightmare. BYU couldn't shoot, couldn't rebound or defend. They got down early and couldn't find a shovel.

It didn't help that the Lobos came out with the same confidence they ended with in The Pit January 29 — faith and knowledge that every shot they'd launch from distance would find the bottom of the net. Over and over again, the Lobos fired and made. It looked automatic.

The Lobos looked nothing like the team that had gone 5-5 in their last 10 games and created a mediocre losing 6-8 Mountain West record. UNM's players looked magnificent. Like they were playing to music.

Phillip McDonald, a 10 points a game scorer, had 15 by halftime. He ended with 26, one away from his career high. Kendall Williams looked like Michael Jordan and passed his season average by halftime.

Make no mistake about it, the Lobos were the better team Wednesday night. Not even close. UNM outrebounded BYU 45-29.

It had been eight straight games of Cougar wins, runs and buckets since that day in Albuquerque. In the first half of this rematch, BYU had returned to victim.

UNM has BYU's number. It is a fact. It marks its course like some Einstein formula. Lobos coach Steve Alford is the hammer. He beat them twice last year — taking a title away from the Cougars in a year BYU went to the second round of the NCAAs.

UNM is 4-0 against BYU the past two seasons. They dial up BYU and become Duke.

BYU looked panicked. Jimmer Fredette looked like he had LaVell Edwards Stadium on his shoulders. And shot like it too.

The All-American got more than his average, scoring 33. But it must have felt he was performing or receiving a root canal with a Black and Decker.

He couldn't hit from the inside, neither could his teammates, so he drove and pounded it in the paint. The Jimmer was 1 for 9 from distance. All those shots BYU made last Saturday were a time zone away on the coast.

Fredette banked on trying to make something happen. He also invested his body that he'd go to the line. He did, making 12 of 12. If you polled the crowd, he should have shot 10 more from the stripe. He had a finger scrape on his left arm near his elbow crease, pink shoulders and forearms. He kept checking his appendages like he couldn't believe they were still attached to sinew.

Fredette scored 25 of BYUs first 31 points in the second half. The Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo show, who wore hero robes in San Diego, could not repeat.

Trailing 65-43 with 9:28 left in the game, Jackson Emery reached around and knocked the ball from Dariese Gary and earned a foul. In frustration, he emotionally ran to the other end of the court and hit the wall mat. Rose took him out and he kicked over a chair.

So, this is what losing felt like.

The game had turned into an exercise in aggravation, frustration and annoyance for the home team and crowd, who reacted to calls and non-calls with fury and anger.

The BYU loss robbed the Cougars of cutting down the nets as undisputed MWC champion. They can now celebrate a shared title Saturday with a win over Wyoming.

It will also rattle BYU's No. 3 ranking, shake up No. 1 seed chatter and give Dave Rose plenty to think about in the next few days.

Losing.

It is not fun.

But with the Lobos, the carriers of BYU's poison cup, it has almost become a given.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

twitter: harmonwrites

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