ALBUQUERQUE – Sparked by another standout game from Jalen Harris, who scored 26 with nine rebounds, Nevada beat New Mexico 88-74 on Tuesday night.
It was a game that marked the first return to the Pit of former Lobos coaches Steve Alford, who left New Mexico to coach UCLA before ending up at Reno, Nev., and Craig Neal, who replaced Alford with the Lobos, before getting fired after four years and joining Alford with the Wolf Pack.
Both were booed heartily at their entrance to the arena.
“Whether it was booing or if was going to be an ovation, I expected it to be loud,” Alford said. “I expected it to be pro-Lobo red. That’s why we loved it here and that’s why we still love and admire this place.”
“I won awful lot of game on this court sitting on the other bench,” he said. “And now, I win a game sitting on the other bench. It’s just an odd, bittersweet feeling.”
While New Mexico showed an intensity that has been missing of late, a 13-3 Wolf Pack run late in the first half turned a 30-30 game into a 43-33 Nevada lead.
The Lobos never really threatened from there, getting no closer than 49-42 early in the second half.
“We’re playing very well and we grew together,” Alford said. “We defended the way we needed to defend. We came in and out rebounded them. We knew they were going to come at us.”
Jazz Johnson added 15 points, including his 1,500th career point, for Nevada (17-10, 10-5 Mountain West Conference), which has won four straight.
Vance Jackson had 15 for New Mexico (17-11, 6-9).
Lindsey Drew scored 14 points with six rebounds and four assists to become the first Wolf Pack player in program history with 900 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists in his career.
“They just came down and made some really big shots,” New Mexico coach Paul Weir said. “We were earning everything we got, and they’d just come down and make a talent play. They’d just come down and make a great play. “
Harris came into the game averaging 32 points a game over his last five.
“Harris is a player-of-the-year type player,” Weir said. “It start there and then when you surround him with other guys, it’s a very good perimeter team for sure.”
BIG PICTURENevada: The win moves the Wolf Pack into a second-place tie with Utah State. It is a key spot in which to be as every team is striving to be in the bracket opposite No. 4 and undefeated San Diego State, which Nevada has to play at home in the regular season finale Feb. 29.
New Mexico: The Lobos continue to stumble along and now have lost three of four at home after starting the home slate 13-0. New Mexico is in danger of dropping to the bottom half of the conference tournament play-in bracket.
FIREWORKSThe last two meetings of the teams in Albuquerque have been particularly noteworthy. A year ago, the No. 6 Wolf Pack came in undefeated and left licking their wounds after a nondescript Lobos squad dished out a 27-point beat down. And in 2017, Nevada came back from a 25-point, second-half deficit to win 105-104 in overtime, a game that went a long way to coach Craig Neal’s demise at New Mexico. Neal is now the Nevada associate head coach.
UP NEXTNevada: The Wolf Pack is home Feb. 22 against Fresno State.
New Mexico: The Lobos are at Boise State on Feb. 23.