Hanno Mottola led the way
with 18 points vs. Lobos.
Feb. 28, 1998
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Trust Utah coach Rick Majerus to find the dark cloud in the silver lining, even after the fifth-ranked Utes won their third straight Western Athletic Conference regular-season title Saturday night.
"We're in for an uphill climb. There's nothing more difficult than going for back-to-back titles in sports, and now we're going for four," Majerus said.
The Utes completed their climb with Hanno Mottola scoring 18 points as Utah beat No. 16 New Mexico 65-55 in a showdown for the WAC's Mountain Division title.
"These kids are the top of the mountain as people and players," Majerus said. "They deserve the Mountain Division championship."
After the game, seniors Michael Doleac and Drew Hansen grabbed the public address microphone and addressed the crowd.
"Change may be inevitable, but for the last four years, we've owned this league," Hansen said.
The victory also gave the Utes (25-2 overall, 12-2 WAC) one of the No. 1 seeds in this week's conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Doleac scored 15 points, Andre Miller 14 and Alex Jensen added 11 points and 10 rebounds as the Utes won their fifth straight game and 21st in a row at home.
New Mexico (21-6, 11-3) was led by Lamont Long's 15 points. Kenny Thomas scored 14, while Ben Baum and Clayton Shields added 10 each as the Lobos lost their third straight.
"Utah is the epitome of team," New Mexico coach Dave Bliss said. "I respect how well they play together. They wore us down and wouldn't let us back in it."
With Utah ahead 43-38 with 12:32 to play, Miller had four points in a 9-2 run that gave the Utes a 52-40 advantage. Miller's layup with 9:15 remaining made it 52-40.
The closest the Lobos could get after that was seven points.
New Mexico played without injured guard Royce Olney, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the Lobos' 77-74 win over Utah in Albuquerque Feb. 1.
The victory was sweet revenge for Utah's Miller.
"Revenge is great. I just wish we could have beaten them by more, but New Mexico is a great team," Miller said.
"Utah is peaking at just the right time," Mottola said. "We played better the last few games and now we're really ready for the WAC tournament. It feels good to get on a roll like this."
Saturday night, Bliss used just six players, but he wasn't prepared to call that a factor. "I don't want to make any excuses. Utah goes deep, but that wasn't the reason they won," he said.
The Utes held New Mexico to 40 percent shooting, including just 12-of-33 inside the 3-point arc. The Utes made half their shots (25-of-50) and converted 58 percent in the second half.
"I thought our defense was exceptional," Majerus said. "We were gutty and determined. We took away their inside game."
In the first half, Utah dominated inside and led 25-12 when Mottola hit a baseline jumper with 5:15 left.
Utah led 29-25 at halftime behind 10 points from Mottola. The Utes held New Mexico to just one basket inside, but the Lobos stayed close with 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range.