New Mexico center Luc Longley won the game within the game, but BYU came away with the victory.
In a contest billed as the 7-foot-2 senior behemoth vs. the 7-6 freshman beanpole, it was a 6-7 junior who played above the rest as the Cougars downed the Lobos 72-65 Saturday night in the Marriott Center.BYU forward Steve Schreiner scored 30 points, hitting turnaround jumpers against a succession of Lobo defenders. And when other Cougars missed, Schreiner was frequently there to put it back in. Nine of his 18 rebounds were off the offensive glass.
And this after getting 24 points and 12 rebounds Thursday against UTEP.
"Steve Schreiner had a great weekend against two teams supposed to win our conference," BYU Coach Roger Reid said.
Schreiner's performance couldn't have come at a more opportune time, as center Shawn Bradley was effectively neutralized by Longley, who should be the first Australian in the NBA by this time next year. Bradley finished with seven points, making three-of-15 shots from the field as Longley gave him all sorts of trouble. Bradley also had five rebounds and five blocked shots, playing just 21 minutes.
Longley, meanwhile, scored 22 points on nine of 19 (his worst field-goal percentage this season), with nine rebounds. Along the way, he showed Bradley some world-class big-man moves.
"I knew he was good, but I didn't know he was that good," Bradley said of his opponent.
Reid chose not to dwell on the battle of the big men in his postgame comments.
"Bradley-Longley is a media thing," he said. "This was New Mexico-BYU."
It may have been a media thing, but the fans were aware of it. The crowd of 19,000 even cheered when Bradley controlled the center jump to open the ballgame.
The coach did acknowledge that Bradley may have tried too hard against the WAC's second-biggest player.
"He (Bradley) was hurrying his shots a little bit," Reid said, "and taking them a couple steps further out than usual."
"I was very apprehensive, very nervous," Bradley admitted.
A good portion of the credit for keeping Longley to as few points as he had goes to Gary Trost, Bradley's backup who played 19 body-bruising minutes against the physical Longley. Trost scored 10 points while doing a good job denying passes to Longley.
And while impressive on offense, and when defending Bradley, at other times Longley seemed to have, well, lapses. On several occasions he allowed players to shoot right in front of him without even putting a hand in the shooter's face, and he gave up several uncontested layups.
As in other BYU victories, though, the ultimate key was the Cougar defense and rebounding outweighing their turnovers. BYU outboarded UNM 46-34 while committing just seven turnovers and limiting the Lobos to 42 percent shooting from the field. BYU's 16 offensive boards were a season high; the turnovers a season low.
Reid said the plan was to not worry about Longley's points, but to hold down Lobos Rob Robbins and Willie Banks. It worked, as Banks finished with nine and Robbins seven.
UNM's poor shooting was particularly noticeable at the start, as they converted one field goal in the first three and a half minutes. The cold shooting allowed BYU to jump to a 10-3 lead.
The Lobos then capitalized on fast breaks off BYU misses and quick outlet passes to take the lead, 13-12. UNM had its last lead at 25-24 with six minutes left in the first half. They tied it a couple times after that, the last time at 42-42, but the Cougars never allowed them to get back on top.
The Cougs never really did get a run on the Lobos in the second half - they just slowly pulled away until the lead was 10 with 6:46 remaining. UNM closed to within three at 65-62, but four free throws by Scott Moon and Mark Santiago, coupled with some UNM three-point airballs, put the game away.
BYU is now 9-8 overall, 3-1 in the WAC. New Mexico, the preseason WAC favorite, is on the ropes with a 1-3 WAC mark.
The Cougars now take to the road for games against Colorado State on Thursday and Wyoming on Saturday. Much more than this weekend's games, this road trip will tell if BYU is a legitimate WAC contender.
COUGAR NOTES: Bradley left the game for good with 2:51 left when he was hit in the head while diving for a loose ball. It left him woozy, but he still got off a pass to Schreiner for a critical basket . . . BYU forward Kenneth Roberts had his second impressive game in a row, with 12 points and five rebounds . . . The shot-of-the-game award goes to UNM guard Ike Williams, who drove through the heart of the BYU defense for a flying hammer dunk that impressed even the jaded types on press row . . . Ogden native Kurt Miller, playing his final collegiate game before a Utah crowd, scored 10 points in 11 minutes.