Everyone knows New Mexico's success revolves around 7-2 center, future-first-round-draft-choice Luc Longley. When he's in the game, there's always trouble, BIG trouble, lurking. Get him out of the game and you've got a fighting chance.
Utah did that - got him out of the game - for just five minutes of the second half due to foul trouble Thursday night and it paid off in an important 65-53 victory.When Longley left the game with his fourth foul at the 13:07 mark, the Lobos were leading 42-39, having outscored the Utes 13-6 in the second half. Lobo Coach Dave Bliss waited as long as he could before re-inserting Longley at the 8:15 mark. But by then the Utes were up 51-47 and New Mexico never got closer.
"It made a big difference to us, because it changes what we do," said Bliss, who was not happy with the officiating. "I didn't think it was a good call at all, not consistent with what the game had been at that point. That changed the game."
Utah's Rick Majerus said, "With Longley we defended real well when he was in foul trouble on the bench." Actually Majerus was complimentary of his team's defense which collapsed on Longley every time he got the ball, often forcing him into one of his several bad passes (six turnovers on the night).
The Australian with the long red locks wasn't in a particularly talkative mood afterwards. When asked about his fourth foul where he was called for backing into Afeaki, he replied, "They called a foul . . . so that's what happened." Could you elaborate on that a little, Luc?
"They called a foul, that's all."
Afeaki, of course, thought it was a foul. "He went out and caught the ball and I wouldn't let him come back into the paint. So he just kept moving me with his lower body. It was a foul. It's my ground and I held it there."
Longley said wasn't bothered by the way the Utes played him, with Walter Watts and Afeaki alternating and walk-on Sean Mooney logging five big first-half minutes against him when Watts and Afeaki had five fouls between them.
"I should be able to cope with that, it happens every night," said Longley.
Watts said the Ute strategy was to "body him up, keep him out of the paint and make him take off-balance turnaround jump shots." He figured he and his mates did the job. "Longley's a great player. He can get 29 on you easily, so I think we did a good job in holding him to 11."
Afeaki said the game plan was to get Longley frustrated. "We kept pushing him out and keeping him out of the paint. Gradually he kept fouling and fouling and got frustrated," said Afeaki.
Longley's line of 11 points and 7 rebounds wasn't his worst of the season. He only scored 10 against Texas Tech and Arizona State and only had five rebounds against Wyoming last week. Still, he wasn't smiling afterwards.
"I wasn't much good," said Longley, who will finally have someone to look up to when he goes against BYU's 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley Saturday night in Provo.