ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. If No. 25 BYU can extend its nation-leading home winning streak to 47 games with wins over Air Force and Wyoming on Saturday and next Wednesday, respectively, the Cougars will not only repeat as Mountain West Conference champs but could enhance a possible seed in the NCAA tournament.
But head coach Dave Rose isn't thinking about anything but a rematch with the Falcons in the Marriott Center this weekend after a 70-69 overtime win over New Mexico in The Pit on Tuesday.
"Our guys played hard," said Rose. "I was just really proud of how they battled. They were competitors. It went back and forth, they gave everything they had, and we were lucky that we made one more play than they did."
Trent Plaisted scored 23 points and Sam Burgess hit all four of his free throws in overtime to lift BYU to the win.
Plaisted's pair of free throws with 5.7 seconds left turned out to be the winning margin, ending New Mexico's six-game win streak. The Cougars climbed to 22-6 overall and 11-2 in the MWC. The Lobos dropped to 22-7, 9-5.
The Cougars overcame foul troubles, the loss of starting point guard Ben Murdock to a sprained ankle just after halftime, an eight-point deficit in the second half, and 30 points by the Lobos' player-of-the-year candidate, J.R. Giddens, in earning the win.
"Just to have to overcome everything, that's what I'm most happy for," said Rose, who has never lost to the Lobos and kept his league string of never losing two league games in a row intact with the one-point win.
"They got the job done better one more possession than we did," said UNM coach Steve Alford. "We missed a lot of shots that we normally make. That's the worst three-point shooting we've had all year, and we still only lose by one point to the best team in our league."
Indeed, the Lobos, the top three-point shooting team in the league, made just one in their first 10 tries and finished 3-of-21 for 14 percent from beyond the arc.
Rose said BYU's defense may have been a part of it.
"I think our guys did a great job of challenging shots, but they had some open looks. We were fortunate," he said. "You just want your players to fight through everything that is presented to them and, again, we made one more play."
Like San Diego State's Lorrenzo Wade (28 points) last Saturday, Giddens proved a tough man to stop for the Cougar defense.
"We used three or four guys to guard him and he still got 30, but he did have to shoot 26 times to get it," said Rose.
Lee Cummard, also a top player-of-the-year candidate for BYU, attempted just nine shots and made five for 14 points, but his three-pointer with 3:01 to play in the game tied it at 58.
Before fouling out with a minute to play, Cummard's driving lay-in off a pass by freshman Jimmer Fredette gave the Cougars a 62-60 advantage with 2:09 left, part of a 13-5 Cougar run.
Plaisted's final free throws came after his well-known struggles (53 percent for the season) from the line, but Rose said his confidence in this game was apparent. After making his first free throw, during a timeout in the huddle, Plaisted told his teammates, "Hey, I got it, let's just get a stop."Said Rose, "That's what you want to see. He was confident. He was really engaged the whole game. They were doing a good job of pushing him, guarding him, doubling him, and he responded by not forcing it and playing within himself."