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New Mexico 64, Utah 53

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The people's choice finally got some
prime time and he didn't let them down.

Joel Box, popular with New Mexico fans but for most of the
season out-of-favor with coach Ritchie McKay, got his first start
Saturday. In a solid and season-high 25 minutes on the court, Box
scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and had two steals in the
Lobos' 64-53 win over Utah.

"It felt good, it felt really good to start," the soft-spoken
power forward said. "I've been working harder and doing some extra
work and stuff and it really paid off. That's what got me my start
tonight."

Box's first season with the Lobos has been a mix of potential
and problems. He came to New Mexico as a highly touted scorer from
junior college, but quickly found himself at the end of McKay's
bench. Box quit the team right after Christmas, was reinstated less
than two weeks later, then briefly quit the team again.

He had a season-high 14 points in 14 minutes against Brigham
Young on Wednesday night, a game the Lobos lost 77-71.

McKay has caught considerable criticism from New Mexico fans for
not giving Box more playing time. On talk shows, the fans
overwhelmingly came down on Box's side and Box finally got the
starting call Saturday. He scored the game's first points on a
12-foot jumper, added a 3-pointer and scored five points in an 11-2
run that gave New Mexico the lead for good in the first half.

"I wasn't nervous," Box said. "That's what I'm used to --
starting."

The scoring of Box, David Chiotti and Mark Walters allowed the
Lobos to overcome another late game scoring slump.

New Mexico (13-9, 4-5 MWC) snapped a two-game losing streak. The
Lobos had back-to-back losses to UNLV and Brigham Young in games in
which New Mexico failed to score a field goal in the final five
minutes of those games.

This time it was Utah (10-10, 3-6 MWC) that struggled
offensively. The Utes also had 19 turnovers, 13 of them in the
first half.

"You go back to an old nemesis, which is turnovers," said Utah
coach Ray Giacoletti. "You give your opponent, especially on the
road, too many opportunities. We are trying to do things that are
out of character, trying to do things you can't do."

Utah had just five field goals in the first half, missing 15 of
20 field goals. The Utes shot better in the second half, hitting 11
of 21 shots, but still trailed 56-40 with 5:48 left after Chiotti
scored inside.

But New Mexico's shooters then went cold and Utah scored nine
straight points. The run ended with a 3-pointer by point guard
Johnnie Bryant that got the Utes within 56-49 with 3:41 left.
Bryant led the Utes in scoring with 15 points, 10 of them in the
second half.

Walters got the Lobos offense going again with a basket inside
with 1:24 remaining. Kyle Prochaska followed with a layup and
Chiotti hit two free throws and a dunk off a steal.

Walters and Chiotti each scored 14 points and Prochaska had five
offensive rebounds and 9 points.

"He's a junkyard dog type of player," McKay said of the
6-foot-6 Prochaska, who hit 4 of 6 shots and several times beat the
taller Utah frontline to the boards.

The Lobos scored the game's first seven points. Walters followed
Box's first basket with a baseline jumper and 3-pointer. New Mexico
then went scoreless for the next 7 1/2 minutes, and the Utes took
their only lead of the game at 8-7 on a bankshot by Jonas Langvad
with 11:39 left in the first half.

The Utes' lead disappeared quickly as New Mexico countered with
an 11-2 run and a 29-19 lead with 46 seconds left in the opening
period.

Besides Box getting to start, New Mexico fans also got to see a
different side of McKay -- a calmer, less vociferous version. McKay,
who often challenges the refs' calls and stomps and hollers on the
sidelines, did none of that Saturday.

"I told the guys I want them to enjoy it," McKay said of his
new look. "I want the guys to know I'm confident in them and I've
got to continue to remember to enjoy it as well."