The season might not have turned out as well as many of us would have hoped. However, a lot could be redeemed with a victory over the Lobos tonight in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament. And though Utah has not defeated New Mexico this season, it isn't as improbable as one would believe.
Take for instance Utah's close losses to the Lobos. The first, and closest, came against New Mexico on their home court, as Utah actually blew a chance to win the game in regulation. Yes the Lobos cruised in OT, but it was a competitive game in a hostile environment. Playing in front of a half-empty Thomas and Mack Center is hardly intimidating for the Utes and could actually benefit them in a close contest. And since every loss but one has been close this season for Utah, it's entirely possible the game comes down to the wire.
But for Utah to win they have got to play loose and with confidence. This game is not all that important for Utah, but it is for New Mexico. The Lobos are almost definitely playing for their tournament lives tonight, as losing will pop that tournament bubble and send them to the NIT. No such pressure for the Utes, as it appears they're not even in contention for the NIT. So Utah should go into this game wanting to compete, but knowing the end result probably won't change the season all that much. If Utah is lucky enough to win, it may not position them for the postseason, but it would be a good building block to future success and it's always nice ending another team's dreams to boot. If they lose, well that's to be expected and they can now start looking toward next season.
I look for tonight's game to be a tough, close contest between the two. I'm not expecting a blowout, which means this game will unfold like every other loss in the conference this season. Now it's up to Utah to find the tough mindset that will carry them to victory -- and no better place for that than the Mountain West Tournament.