GAME NOTES: Tied with San Diego State for the top spot in the Mountain West Conference standings, the 25th-ranked New Mexico Lobos turn their attention toward the visiting Utah State Aggies at home tonight.
Since losing back-to-back games against Kansas and New Mexico State in the middle of December, the Lobos have been trying to regain their momentum and catch up to streaking San Diego State which, up until recently, was enjoying an unprecedented 20-game win streak. There have been a couple bumps in the conference road for UNM, falling to UNLV at home and then on the road at Boise State, but since the setback to the Broncos the team has rattled off three straight victories.
The most recent win for New Mexico was an overwhelming 58-44 thrashing of the Aztecs this past Saturday in The Pit. The outcome knocked SDSU down in the national rankings from sixth to 13th, and elevated the Lobos into the spotlight, as well as give them a 12-2 league ledger.
While the Lobos are now vying to take the regular-season title in the MWC once again, the same cannot be said for the Aggies who entered the week ninth in the standings with a record of only 5-10. The team had won three straight games earlier this month, but is now dealing with a three-game slide, having lost to visiting Fresno State on Saturday, 79-76.
The Lobos won the first meeting of the season late last month by a score of 78-65 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, thanks to the efforts of Cameron Bairstow who tallied 22 points, pulled down six rebounds and blocked four shots for the visitors. As a result, the all-time series now numbers 19-5 in favor of Utah State surprisingly enough.
Utah State led by four early in the meeting against the Bulldogs on Saturday night, but that didn't last and eventually turned into a 16-point deficit and three-point loss. Preston Medlin, who shot just 2-of-9 from the floor and finished with six points, was the only starter not to score in double figures for a USU group that was led by Jarred Shaw with 18 points. Kyle Davis logged a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, followed by TeNale Roland and Spencer Butterfield with 12 and 10 points, respectively, not to mention six assists each.
In conference games this season USU, which is just 1-6 on the road versus the rest of the MWC, is scoring a mere 65.9 ppg and shooting only 44.0 percent from the field which is out of character. Shaw accounts for 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, both of which are team highs, but for someone who handles the ball as much as he does, even accidentally he should have more than 11 assists in 14 starts. Butterfield (12.5 ppg) and Medlin (11.7 ppg) also pitch in at the offensive end of the court.
Bairstow stole the show on offense for the Lobos against San Diego State, as he cranked out 26 points and cleared nine rebounds, showing that almost no one in the MWC can stop him when he is on his game. Perhaps even more remarkable was the fact that Bairstow wasn't charged with a single foul, the team being hit with just 11 infractions. Because of the near-perfect effort by New Mexico on defense, limiting SDSU to a season-low in points, the Aztecs also made it to the free-throw line only three times and missed each of those opportunities. Kendall Williams chipped in 10 points and seven assists for the hosts.
Through 26 games, Bairstow has become the top performer for the Lobos this season, leading the team in scoring (20.5 ppg) as he shoots 56.2 percent from the floor, not to mention placing second both on the glass (7.2 rpg) and in the shot-blocking department (40). Williams, who was thought to be the top player in the Mountain West heading into the campaign, is still one of the best players with his 17.3 ppg and 130 assists, even while being overshadowed by the big man in the paint.
Against nationally-ranked teams the Aggies are just 16-96 (.143) all-time, although a slightly better percentage (.217, 5-18) under head coach Stew Morrill, but having to play this one in The Pit will not be an easy task for a Utah State crew which is already having issues on the road this season.
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