Published January 22, 2012
LAS VEGAS – New Mexico has gone from preseason Mountain West favorites to the middle of the pack in a conference with two teams in the Top 25 poll.
The struggling Lobos simply looked overmatched down the stretch in an 80-63 loss to No. 14 UNLV on Saturday night.
"We stopped playing defense, we didn't box out, we didn't execute our offense," said Tony Snell, who had 15 points for New Mexico.
"We knew what they would do," he said. "We need to stay more consistent defensively."
The Lobos led for the first 14 minutes of the game, but never really challenged the Runnin' Rebels after the advantage was taken away.
"Their pressure defense really got to us in the second half," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "We had too many turnovers."
The loss was New Mexico's second in conference play, leaving the Lobos an uphill climb the rest of the way if they hope to claim the regular-season Mountain West title.
Mike Moser had 14 points and 10 rebounds for UNLV, his 10th double-double of the season.
"Once we stopped thinking about what they were doing, we played well," said Moser, a sophomore forward who is one of 25 players nationwide on a watch list for college basketball's best player.
"They weren't ready for us running like that," he said.
Moser grabbed his last rebound in the game's final seconds, reaching the double-double in a game many expected to be closer given the conference rivalry and New Mexico's tough loss to No. 16 San Diego State earlier this week. The Aztecs beat Air Force on Saturday night.
Carlos Lopez, sporting a fresh mohawk, led the Runnin' Rebels' reserves with 14 points in 14 minutes, tying a career high he set last season against Utah. He was 8 of 14 on free throws.
"The energy Carlos Lopez brought off the bench tonight was fantastic," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "(The reserves) all played well and contributed."
New Mexico kept things tight during the first half, but never posed a threat after losing the lead.
A.J. Hardeman quickly dunked after the opening tip, putting UNLV in an early hole it compounded by missing five of its first seven shots. UNLV (18-3, 2-1) trailed by five midway through the first half, but took its first lead at 25-23 with 6 minutes left on a pair of free throws, eventually finishing the half up 39-35.
The Rebels then ran it up in the second half, scoring 26 points off New Mexico's 11 turnovers and pushing the ball up the floor every chance they got.
UNLV finished with 26 fast-break points, pressing the lead as high as 20 points.
"You can never score too many points. We wanted to come out and be aggressive — we wanted to put pressure on them," said Anthony Marshall, who scored 13 points and had nine assists. "We turned it up a notch in the second half."
Kendall Williams also had 15 points for New Mexico (15-4, 1-2).
The Rebels outshot the Lobos in the first half, but continuously gave New Mexico second and third looks at the basket. New Mexico had 13 offensive rebounds compared with 15 total rebounds for the Rebels in the same frame. But the Lobos scored only six second-chance points in the half.
"We were overthinking things," Moser said.
UNLV flipped that around during the second half, grabbing 18 total and 11 offensive rebounds, converting 11 second-chance points.
Five players scored in double figures for the Rebels, including Chace Stanback with 13 points and reserve Justin Hawkins, who had 10 in 21 minutes.
Drew Gordon had 14 points and Hardeman had 10 for New Mexico.
Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .